By Sarah Corbett
Khayamia is a rich and decorative appliqué textile. The intricate textile was historically used to adorn the interiors of Beautiful Egyptian tents called Suradeq.
It is believed that the Khayamia trade dates back to 1250 – 1317 AD during the Mamluk rule of the region.
In a street south of Bab Zuweila in Cairo, tent makers have designed and hand stitched textiles for over 700 years.
Antique examples of Khayamia are rare. They were originally seen as replaceable, and their use was in environments which were hot and dusty. A superb example of an early 20th Century Tent survives in the tented room at Doddington Hall in England.
The appliquéd pieces are worked by hand by male artisans sitting cross legged, using scissors, needle and threads they execute fine designs backed with sturdy cotton for strength.
There are several categories of design style. Arabesque: Consisting of intricate Ottoman interlinked designs. Folkloric: One popular tale, The legend of Goha, involves a man and his son and the treatment of their donkey. Orientalist: : Street scenes based of the art of David Roberts (1796 – 1864). Birds / Tree of life: Drawing influence from the story of the garden of Eden. Musicians: Featuring Performers and dancers. Calligraphy: Mainly Qur’anic. Pharaonic: Based on images on Papyrus.
The demand for tents has been met in recent years by cheaper versions from China and Pakistan. The artisans of Cairo’s tent making souks turned their skills in part to items which would be popular with tourists, such as pillow covers. The recent unrest in Egypt has disrupted the flow of tourist income, sadly the art of this long established souk is in danger of being lost to history.
Recently a film was made by Kim Beamish, It documents the story of these artisans. Kim spent time with the tent makers over three years. These were turbulent times, during political uprisings in Cairo. You can see more about this documentary by visiting the site about the film at the link below.