QUILTING OUTSIDE THE BOX: THE FINE ART OF EGYPT'S KHAYMAIYA

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Original Post: Aug 26, 2015

Over the past 7 yrs, nestled here in the mountains of the Blue Ridge, I have frequently been confronted with defining, explaining and sometimes defending the type of textile work I do. I live amongst some amazing crafts people: weaving, dying, fiber artists, pottery, wood working, glass blowing, iron working etc. Yet, I can not call any of these disciplines 'home'. I am a designer. I silk screen. No, not t-shirts. I work with fabric, but am not a fiber artist. I do not weave, spin, dye fiber or sheer sheep. I have not yet found my 'box'. 

Having been born in the South, I have a great respect for the traditional craft created here. My sweet Southern grandmothers hand stitched quilts, crochet and cross stitch pieces are heirloom treasures beyond price. However, it is Egypt's design and craft heritage that has left its impression on me. The Mediterranean, Arabic and the unique designs of Khayamiya are what stops my heart, inspires my design spirit and what to me... feels like 'home'.

Khaymaiya (Arabic خيّامية Khayyāmiyah) or Egyptian Tentmakers Appliqué, is primarily created in Cairo and part of a unique aspect of Egypt's living heritage. They are architectural in origin, but mirror the process of quilt making. Unlike traditional Western quilting, the Tentmakers Appliqué are created by men, hand stitching intricate and colorful patterns on top of cotton, then onto a heavier cotton backing. Tucked away in tiny vendors stalls, curled up on their seats, backs against the wall, barefoot and draped with yards of fabric all around them, these skilled artisans stitch geometric and arabesque patterns deriving from Islamic ornamentation and imagery from Pharaonic art. All breath takingly exquisite. All of them different.

The Khaymaiya artisans have been know for centuries for their decorative tents which have spread across the Arab territories. These durable tapestries serve the duel purpose of shielding its inhabitants from the hot, dry and dusty desert while adding ornamentation to its interior. They are an important aspect of everyday Egyptian life creating portable venues for weddings, feasts, festivals, funerals, and many other celebratory occasions. These tents are as easily erected out in the desert as they are wedged between buildings in a small alley. And they are quite a magnificent sight to see in either location.

It is heartbreaking to learn however, that Khaymaiya is a rapidly dying art and struggling to stay relevant in its own country. Even more so since the Egyptian Revolution in 2011. Since the 1990s, the Khayamiya craft has been knocked off by cheaply printed and mass produced reproductions undercutting the demand and respect for such skilled workmanship. To keep the craft alive and to put coin in the pocket, the Tentmakers have down sized from tents and large tapestries to smaller collectibles, bed quilts, throws, wall hangings and pillows to expand their entrepreneurial opportunities. It may be a disappearing art form in Egypt, but it is generating a lot of international interest in the quilting world. Fingers crossed this interest will continue to grow and earn the respect it deserves. Insha'Allah! (God willing!)

That said, my family and I are proud owners of a few of these beautiful pieces from a time we called Egypt home. I believe it was growing up around Khaymaiya that has shaped and inspired my work today. So to answer the question of defining what I do? My work is cross-cultured and cross-disciplined, creating my own unique 'box', or perhaps like the exquisite Khaymaiya, getting rid of the box all together. 

Please take a moment to see these videos and how absolutely spectacular these hand stitched designs are. I promise it will be time well spent! And please share them. There is really nothing quite like this type of work, their design, craftsmanship or their story. 

*Luana Rubin of eQuilter.com interviews Tarek Abdelhay and Hosam Hanafy about the Tentmakers of Egypt - an exhibition of exquisitely intricate quilts from Cairo - at the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham England. (August 2011) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHzWRui7Kjk

*'The Tent Makers Of Cairo' film tells the story of Egypt's struggle with democracy through a community of artisans whose craft has remained largely unchanged since Pharaonic times. 'The Tentmakers of Cairo' is a journey into a part of Egypt many will never visit, well beyond the Pyramids, papyrus and behind many of the images seen on the nightly news. Here is the trailer for the film (by Kim Beamish) and a peek into the lives of these artisans. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gr2AptgjvnE

*The Tentmakers of Chareh El Khiamiah - People know me as Hosam EL Farouk' (by Kim Beamish). Here is another excerpt from the film interviewing one of the stitchers (seen in the first two videos) about his life, where his designs come from and why he followed this particular art form. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07Rw_d6HyEY

Did you enjoy these incredible textiles? Drop me a note in the comment block below. I would love to here what you think! xx

CULTURE SHOCK, SUSTAINABILITY AND ALL THAT JAZZ.....

Original Post: Aug 26, 2015

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When I began this new adventure as a textile designer, I not only reached waaaay back to the beginning of becoming a designer... but found myself faced with the task of deciding on the application and end product. What was I going to do with all of this hand printed fabric?? So I traced back even further to our big move overseas and the practicalities of making due with materials we had available for everyday living.

Upon our relocation to Alexandria Egypt in 1982, we were starting a brand new life and with few possessions in tow. The country was still reeling from the loss of its leader, Anwar Sadat and the economy was struggling. We (my mother and I) had never been out of the US which made for an interesting challenge to acclimate to this new and very different culture we found ourselves in. Though I was raised to be mindful, the Western culture we were used to was, and still is, one of disposable conveniences.

I believe it was my mother and stepdads upbringing on the cotton and peanut farms of Alabama and the basics of homesteading that brought us through those first years in Egypt. Meals were completely made from scratch, food was 'put away' because we worked with what was seasonally on the market (and occasionally, the black market). The original Betty Crocker Cookbook, torn and tattered, became sacred texts of the kitchen. There were no trips to the US Embassy commissary (like an American food store, but much smaller scale) and our mailing system was limited at best. Imported goods from Europe, or rarer still, the US were outrageously expensive and difficult to find. So, much of our home products were made by hand.  

With trips to the fabric Souk and a new sewing machine, my mother began working her magic. Curtains were made to keep the cold out (Yes it can get very cold in Egypt! Especially on the Mediterranean!), dinner parties were adorned with simple but elegant textiles. Alternate sets of tableware were made and intended for less formal and daily occasions. Materials were chosen for longevity in addition to lovely patterns and colours. It wasn’t just something for special occasions...it was also to be practical and durable. 

In many ways, I believe this taught me about ‘sustainability’ and going ‘green’ decades before it was a mainstream movement. When I left Egypt for college, my mother created a stack of hand towels, sets of dinner and tea napkins and other home goods to help make my new location ‘home’. The irony here: I was often mistaken for someone from an affluent family because of such 'luxuries', when in fact, they were intended to cut costs on paper goods and bring comfort to a student thousands of miles away from home. I still have (and use) those pieces my mom made for me more than 25 yrs ago. Though being ‘green' or 'sustainable’, was not quite the goal...bringing our own personal aesthetic and practicality to our home, however, was.

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