Tentmakers of Cairo
April 12, 2015 1:55 AM   Subscribe

"In the tomb of Princess Isinkheb was found an entire tent – its inside lined with animals and flowers, the blue ceiling studded with appliqued stars..." and the ancient Egyptian craft of tent making is still alive today. Australian filmmaker Kim Beamish spent three years immersed in the lives of craftsmen, filming his documentary The Tentmakers of Cairo, which premieres this April. It also tells the story of Egypt's struggle with democracy through the lives of a community of artisans whose craft has remained largely unchanged since Pharaonic times.

"When you see a suradeq for the first time, it tends to take your breath away. Although very plain and grayish-white on the outside, the tents are lined inside from top to bottom with exquisite geometric patterns – usually in brilliant reds, greens, blues and yellows – every centimeter of them painstakingly sewn by hand according to a craft tradition rarely practiced anywhere in the Arab world today, except in the tentmakers' bazaar of Cairo."

Some of the quilts were shown in 2011 at the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham, England. Luana Rubin of eQuilter filmed them and interviewed two craftsmen. Another video shows their sewing techniques.

Many of the appliqué works can be found on Pinterest as well.
posted by fraula (10 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wikipedia has an article on khayamiya which gives some useful background and a few more links.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:50 AM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh! And Omar Khayyam? His father was a tentmaker! Hence the name!
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:57 AM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I totally love this post, thank you! The work is just exquisite and it's really sad that it's a dying art. I'm finding myself with a great longing, that will never be fulfilled I guess, to step inside one of the traditional tents and experience the "stained glass" effect that is mentioned in the second eQuilter video. And I'm definitely going to keep an eye out for the documentary which looks fascinating.
posted by billiebee at 4:18 AM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wonder what it means that "tent" is a similar word in both Afro-Asiatic Arabic and Indo-European Persian languages? Like, how far back does that similarity go, and is it a loan word in one direction or the other? I tried to look up what it would have been in (Afro-Asiatic) Egyptian languages but I don't know how to interpret the results, nor where to go to find the same thing in Proto-Indo-European or something like that.

(Interestingly, that Egyptian dictionary search returns one result that seems to be translated into German as "mummification tent".)

One of the caliphs' tents required 100 camels to transport

Now that's camping.
posted by XMLicious at 5:20 AM on April 12, 2015


This is wonderful, thank you. Any day I get to learn about a new art form is a good day.

If anyone else, like me, wanted to see pictures of actual tents, here are a couple of restored examples.
posted by frykitty at 7:36 AM on April 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


Beautiful.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:57 AM on April 12, 2015


I wonder what it means that "tent" is a similar word in both Afro-Asiatic Arabic and Indo-European Persian languages?

How so? Isn't the Persian word something like "chador"?
posted by pravit at 8:28 AM on April 12, 2015


> I wonder what it means that "tent" is a similar word in both Afro-Asiatic Arabic and Indo-European Persian languages?

It's not. If you're thinking of Persian khayme 'tent' and khayyām 'tentmaker,' they're borrowed from Arabic.
posted by languagehat at 9:59 AM on April 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have wanted one of these for as long as I can remember. They are astonishing in person. As a small girl, I was part of a wedding party where the bride and other women were dressed and hennaed before the ceremony. I vividly remember laying on my back, watching the sun play with the patterns. The bridal family were a well respected, wealthy Egyptian family, so it was probably a family heirloom, as I've never seen anything like it for sale commercially.
posted by dejah420 at 11:42 AM on April 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


If I had tons of money my mansion would have a tent room next to the library.

Absolutely beautiful.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:24 PM on April 12, 2015


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