Coming to America with the Egyptian Tentmakers - again!

I have done so much since I last blogged that it is hard to even think of writing again. I am relearning how to do it - click on photographs for huge images - and I apologise - I will fix them tomorrow and work out how to share them with Flickr when I am less weary. It is well after midnight here.

In early December I was in Cairo again. It was an interesting period. Major demonstrations were happening outside the president's palace and friends were worried about the trip. I made one concession to the level of activity - I booked my two lovely drivers, Mohamed and Ibrahim, solidly for the time I was there.

I went with Bonnie Browning from the American Quilter's Society- and we had a wonderful trip. We were going to select work from the Street of the Tentmakers (Sharia Khayamiya) for two AQS shows, Lancaster and Paducah. Lancaster has less space and will have a smaller show but we will have two tentmakers working at both shows. Tarek Abdelhay and Hosam Hanafy are delighted to have the chance to visit America again - last time in Grand Rapids they were treated like rock stars. Their only complaint is that it is too far away.

Arriving on Saturday evening gave us a rest day as the tentmakers were closed on Sunday. It is their only day off.

So we did what people do in Egypt - we went to the pyramids. I love Dashour - but it is a long way out and we had such a limited time so we decided - or I decided as Bonnie was letting me organise her - that we would concentrate on Saqqara and Giza.

Saqqara is a rural area. There are wonderful fields of crops and fodder, and long stretches of date palms. These are used so thoroughly in Egypt. Obviously the dates are a very valuable crop - but they also trim lower fronds so they do not fall off. These are stripped and the green parts are used for woven baskets, the firm centres of the fronds for strong neat boxes for fruit and vegetables, and the slightly knobbly date stems are turned into stiff brooms.


I think this wins the competition for most heavily laden bike for the day!

Fruit and vegetables are sold along the road.


Saqqara is the site of the first pyramid. For those who did not know - tombs were originally covered with a mud brick structure like a wide square bench. It was called a mastaba as that meant bench - and it was about the height of a man's shoulder. Then mud brick was replaced with cut stone blocks for more important people. It was Imhotep - the architect of Djoser, the pharoah of the time, who decided to see what happened if you put another mastaba on top of the first - and another - and another.

Bonnie found a friend!

There are many other pyramids there - and some are still under the drifting sands of the desert.        We went into one - Teti's pyramid. It has spectacular pyramid text on the walls and beautiful stars at the top of the walls and on the ceiling - and so many see it as a little pyramid with a crumbling top - but inside it is lovely.

We had called into Wissa Wassef as I really wanted to show Bonnie the tapestries. I was really sad that Alphonse was sick - sad that he was sick and sad that he was not there. He usually shows us around and there was no-one to fill in for him - so we could not see it. But - just at the turnoff in Harrania was a lovely surprise. There was a real khayamiya for Bonnie to see. It was a small tent, set up inside out so the pretty walls were on the outside instead of the inside and with a family living in it, while they sold fruit in front.


And inside they had put up some of the printed screen - and on the floor was their sleeping baby.


It was a lovely day.


Welcome to my studio

I have been dreading the coming of ‘my day’ on the blog hop.

I have been watching everyone else’s blogs and spotless white-surfaced studios and every time I see one my stomach churns a little more.

My room is messy. My process is messy too. I pull out lots of fabric – usually about four times what I will actually use. In fact it is more than that –as I will not even pick up a quarter of the pieces I get out – and even then I often only use little bits.

I work in a system of piles, and they teeter and even fall over occasionally. I have less space than I have objects to fill it. I have a biggish room but I have big tables, and bookshelves and lots and lots of books and magazines. Now and again I decide to clean some out – and they go in a box – and stay there. My son heard me explain this and muttered about ‘archiving’ so now I have a museum term for my storage that does not quite rate a place on a shelf.

At the moment I am racing to finish a quilt for Sydney – not helped by the fact that I have three bookings in other places before then and so six days are out of the equation.

Anyway – I decided to let you see what it looks like – usually. I have cleaned up a few piles. I am going to concentrate on showing you things I really like about the space and ignore the mutterings about how messy I can be. If you like you can think that it is because I am trying to make every messy worker feel better about themselves and their process – but in fact – I am too busy to clean it up before the photos.

So here we are - this is my favourite time to go in - at night as it is like walking into a jewelled cave. I am a night owl and spend long hours here in the evenings, often finishing at 2.00am.


I have to walk outside to get to my studio - we built it as a Granny Flat for my then 18 year old.

I thought I would simply show you some of the things I love in my studio.


The photo is terrible - sorry about that. I love my two little SewEzi tables and change the configuration as I wish to use them. I also have a really big table to that sits on 3 very strong, stable carpenter's trestles that were built to fit it exactly. My husband dropped the big table to the height of the little ones, so all line up exactly.

Below you see it set up for pinning.


I like having a big design wall - and it would be even bigger if I could get rid of the small bookshelf. It even extends on to the door of the stash room - but it would be unfortunate if anyone opened it from inside when things are pinned right across.


This is the door to the area under the house which was wasted space between garage and some unlined storage - and my husband made shelves for it. It looks very untidy but it is actually quite well sorted.


Fabric in baskets is sorted by colour but not necessarily value. The baskets stack well and are light - unlike heavy boxes I have seen that some use for fabric. I can bring them out quickly and easily and then select fabric on the table when I wish.


This is a selection used for a recent portrait...


This little stand is one of the very best things I have bought. It is on wheels, and I had thought of using it for threads. My husband assembled the flat pack and put it just inside the door. I put my coffee on it that morning and it never moved again. I have pens and writing things in the top drawer, then sharps - cutters and scissors, sewing machine accessories and so on. I even have a drawer for all the remotes, and my Ipod dock sits on top. My big bolt of batting sits behind it. I use Matilda's Own 60/40 wool/poly as I love it.


I have another around the corner for thread in colour coded drawers.


I really like having a power source above the table as it means no cords to trip over.


And - just for fun - a detail of a printer's tray that is mounted above the sink in the tiny kitchen - in place of a window.


I would love more space, but suspect that I would simply fill that too - and it would simply be easier to lose things.




Studio Blog Hop for SAQA Oceania

For those interested in looking at others' studios SAQA (Studio Art Quulters Association) is runing a blog hop. I asked to be near the end to allow my to clear some of my usual clutter.  I am re-thinking this. I am realising that many people might be reassured by a busy and productive studio that is piled with fabric and the debris of making quilts. They might also be pleased to realise that it does not have to be the whole basement of a house, or a purpose-built building to be workable and effective - even if I frequently want twice the space and half the STUFF.

For my entry you will need to wait until 27th May.

However - every second day a new blog entry will be put up to show you through a studio.

Mel Forrest 1st may
Sue Dennis 3rd May
Lisa Walton 5th  May
Linda Robertus 7th May 
Dale Rollerson 9th May
Averil Stuart-Head 11th May   
Beth Miller 13th May
Sally Westcott 15th May
Ali George 17th May
Pam Holland 19th May
Felicity Clake 21st May
Brenda Gael Smith 23rd May
Alison Lawrence 25th May
Jenny Bowker 27th May
Sue Domeney 29th may

Stitch Like an Egyptian

The exhibition At Durham University was wonderful - and a sellout. I am so excited that we even sold two really stunning pieces to major locations - one to the Library at Durham University, and one to the Oriental Museum.

It is the second piece that I want to talk about.

While I was in Egypt and selecting the work to come with us to Durham I was chatting to my dear friend and tentmaker, Hany Abd El Khader. I was apologising for the fact that the cases were so full of the selected work, and our luggage allowances so limited, that there was very little room for his clothes or work of his own to sell for a little extra money for himself.

The men who come as stitchers do not get paid on these trips. Because I take work from many different people in the street I do not like to favour some shops above others and like to be sure that every shop has work in the show. Some shops have better work than others, but this actually means we have some price variations that help people who do not have a lot to spend but want to buy something. Allowing the stitcher coming with me to put his own work in means that he has a chance to make some money of his own as I do not like the men to charge a commission to the shops who have supplied the work - and this is what would happen in the street.

I was explaining to Hany that we could not take much work of his. He looked quickly around the room we were in and leaned in close. "I have a new piece," he said. "I think I will just take that because it is a big piece."

I started to ask about it but he hushed me and pulled me out into the street. As we walked he explained that he had made a piece of Khayamiya work about the revolution.

I was poleaxed. As far as I know there have not been tentmaker pieces on political subjects, or used as a voice for personal statements. Subjects of Khayamiya work vary a lot - I have seen folkloric work, stories of Goha, Pharaonic pieces, tree of life work like work in the tombs, and almost an infinite variety of islamic, Rumy, and Lotus patterns.

Hany started to explain. He had been distressed at many of the things happening in Tahrir Square in January and excited at the same time. He did not really know what to think. He and his wife talked about it one night and he decided to make a piece of work about the revolution. He took a large piece of fabric - 2.5 metres by 2.5 metres. He drew a circle in the middle to represent Tahrir Square and stitched it in the colours of the Egyptian flag and started to draw in things that were happening there.

He told no-one what he was doing. It the prevalent atmosphere of suspicion in the Tentmaker's Street a design is valuable, and Hany wanted to be sure that no-one else would copy his idea. He stitched in the privacy of his house at night, and even his friend and next door neighbour, also a tentmaker and his brother in law, had no idea.

The work started to drive him. He arrived later and later in the morning for work, muttering about not sleeping well. There were no foreign residents around, and no tourists to buy work - so it did not matter much.

As there was more news on the Television he added other images. I apologise for occasional blurring - the lighting was poor but the colour was better if I did not use flash.

He put in police with riot shields, tightly wedged together and utterly menacing.


He put in the water cannon that no-one knew how to use, that spat out small dribbles of water to the amusement of the crowd.

 He put in women chanting, men praying, and police aiming their guns.

He put in the huge and boring building that looms over one corner of the Square -  the Mogamma - where almost any registration - houses, cars, marriages, deaths - has to be done in Egypt. In another corner you can glimpse the Nile.

He added cars on fire with clouds of grey smoke.

He added banners in English like "Gemeover" (spelling used at the time) and "Go Out" and added more chants and slogans used in Arabic which meant things like "Mubarak out", and "Down with the Regime."

 At the top he put a scarlet banner with "The Revolution of the 25th January is for the Egyptian People."

 It is done simply and in a naive style, but it is a powerful piece of commentary and curiously spine-chilling  when you stand in front of it.


He is still thrilled and excited to have sold it to an important Museum.


Stitch Like an Egyptian

We are coming to Durham, England

For those who saw the stunning exhibition of bright and beautiful needle turned appliqué made by Egyptian men in Birmingham at the Festival of Quilts - and for those who didn't - please note!

I am bringing an exhibition of Egyptian Tentmaker work to Durham in the north of England.

The address of the Egyptian Tentmakers' Exhibition is: Kenworthy Hall, St Mary's College, is: St Mary's College, Elvet Hill Road, DURHAM, DH1 3EQ
Reception: 0191-334-5719

The Exhibition in Kenworthy Hall would be open to the Public:

Friday November 11th from 10 am to 4 pm
Saturday 12 November from 10 am to 6 pm
Sunday 13 November from 10 am to 6 pm
Monday 14th November from 10 am to 6 pm

I am giving a talk - I think on Monday night if you want to come to that.

We have so many enquiries that I suspect we might sell out quickly - so come early if you can.

And please - tell your friends or networks!