While to many from the Indian subcontinent, appliqué work is not a novelty, the bright cheery colours and the traditional local designs on the appliqué work done in Cairo is a delight.
Indians are used to the extremely fine, delicate booti / patti work from Aligargh and up North, so the first time I saw cushions of the Egyptian appliqué work, I must admit that I was not very impressed! Yup, they were colourful and pretty, but I thought I had seen better.
Then a couple of days ago, I had gone to Bab Zuwayla – the southern gate of the old city of Al Qahira, and while returning, I saw a shop selling these cushions. Amongst the standard floral cushions, I saw, a couple of what looked like wall hangings, which caught my eye. There was an ocean scene with a cacti like plants spreading their branches everywhere and all around were lovely, multicoloured fish. And in a flash it came to me - this was the coral reef and the beautiful fish that inhabits it all around the Red Sea coast. It was beautiful!
Seeing my interest, the khiyamiya, who was busy drawing designs on a blank cloth, insisted that I follow him to see many more colours of omesh (fabric) and many more designs. The coral reef was so pretty that I decided to go see what other things he had.
To my surprise, he took me into a couple of by lanes, and, up a narrow staircase. All this while, I am telling myself, that I am a fool, not knowing the language and following the man, god knows where! Before I could take this thought process to any other conclusion, the man threw open the doors to his workshop. I must admit, I stopped for a moment, as a smorgasbord of colours hit my eye.
On the wall, were a number of beautifully crafted wall hangings depicting different local scenes, though all the large ones were typically floral.
This one was huge, and the lovely colours took my breath away. I don’t think the picture does justice to the piece. According to the gentleman, this piece took 6 months to make. I can well imagine!
There was a forest scene with two banyan trees and flocks of birds sitting on the branches which took 2-3 months to make.
Yet another one is with just one tree and birds.
The shop is owned and run by Mohamed Dandan who is an extremely enthusiastic and pleasant chap.
The prices range from 30-40-100-200 LE for cushions depending on the size and the detail of the work involved. The large wall hangings and bedspreads are in the range of LE 7,000 – 10,000. There are smaller wall hangings for LE 500-700 pounds
I believe the origins of this art lie in the ancient craft of making huge tent pavilions, or Suwan, out of beautiful cloth patterns. Now of course, this work has turned to pillow cases, wall hangings and comforters.
I have been told that the Tentmakers market has many such shops with beautiful appliqué work. Must go one of these days and check them out as well.
While I still maintain that the appliqué work back home is far more delicate and exquisite, the khiyamiya has a lovely, rustic and earthy appeal, and, makes it a must own – well at least one piece!