For the world’s nomadic peoples, portable spaces to take shelter and rest have been a crucial, centuries-old aspect of everyday life that continues today in many parts of the world. The Tentmakers of Cairo might well be considered an authority on such a history, even if their days of making traditional Egyptian tents are past.
For centuries, applique designs covered the interiors of full tents, used for dwellings, celebrations and temporary structures. The intricate designs were stitched to the inside of a tent wall as decoration, much like murals or tile work in other cultures. Just a century ago, these intricate designs were used for celebrations of special events, like weddings, funerals and banquets. As the economy in Egypt changed, people began using printed fabrics, forcing many tentmakers to abandon the practice.
The creation of these textiles starts with a canvas backing, upon which a layer of cotton is stitched. The artist then draws designs onto this layer, which an embroiderer stitches with multiple layers of colorful applique. This is all done completely by hand .
Today the Tentmakers of Cairo have adapted their crafts to cover smaller canvas pieces, suitable as colorful wall décor, cushion covers, or even canvas bags. Creating their artwork from simple materials—canvas, thread, and Egyptian cotton— the Tentmakers of Cairo produce strikingly elegant textiles of mesmerizing intricacy. Designs range from those found in second-century BC tomb paintings and ancient mosque tiles to wholly unique designs created by the artists themselves.