Art Making

Tentmakers of Cairo

Islamic art has fascinated me for a long time. If I’m right (and I don’t have a reference book here with me now) Islamic art focusses on geometry, colour, pattern, and text due to ideas of non-pictoral representations in local religion. That’s why it’s so different to our art here in the UK – it’s grown up with a different religious tradition and with different restrictions.

At The Festival of Quilts there was a large exhibition of a group of men who use traditional tentmaking techniques to produce beautiful quilts. Several factors have encouraged more contemporary work from these men, including exhibiting abroad and a generational shift where younger artisans have replaced those who have retired. Traveling around the world and showing their quilts has exposed their work to Western influences which can also be seen in the work that was on display. While the works are firmly routed in Islamic and tentmaking traditions, the motifs were clearly fashionable and influenced by Western style (and customer demand, I’d imagine).

The quality of work was incredible. I’ve included a close up of the stitching further down to show the accuracy. And the men were so fast too. Some of them were stitching while sitting and being asked questions by visitors – I’ve never seen someone sew quite so fast. Certainly puts my own hand-stitching to shame. The technique used is needle-turned applique, and I’ve been planning on embarking a project using this technique for a while now.

It was huge inspiration for costuming to see these works. I’d love to make a huge cloak based on this kind of work for the next part of the Mythlore costume. Just need to convince Simon he wants to play another game as a Persian influenced character.

I believe the artists attending were Hosam Al Farouk and Tarek Al Safty. The exhibition was called ‘Tentmakers of Cairo’ and the pieces were made by various artists from Khan El Khayamiya. They’ve had a documentary made about them – you can find out about it here.

And even better – you can buy their beautiful quilts here.










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