Monday, February 4, 2013

The Tentmakers of Chareh El

Here is a worthy project that has come to my attention. I am adapting text here from a post by Jenny Bowker who has been involved with the project for quite awhile.

Sample of Tentmakers Work
The Tentmakers are a group of men in Cairo who make spectacular applique. Nowadays most of what they make is intended for the walls of houses or on beds, but in Pharaonic, early Islamic, and Ottoman times it was intended for the inside walls of tents. With canvas behind it which formed the
outside wall, the rich appliqué glowed with light on it, and was intended to amaze visitors to a leader's tent. Did you know that Cairo was originally called Fustat - which means the big tent? In pharaonic times the tents were appliqued leather, now all the work is cotton.

You can read more text about them here:

You can see a short video made by Bonnie McCaffrey for Luana Rubin here:

And a longer one made by Bonnie as one of her wonderful vidcasts here:

And if you go to Jenny's Pinterest board on the Tentmakers you will see a lot of current work - and some that is much older and also some of the truly old tents so you can see how they were used.

Jenny also suggests Kim Beamish's Facebook page for a film that he is creating - he is constantly putting up new images, and there is a lot lot of historical input as well.

The art of the Tentmakers has been slowly dying. Big pieces of cheap, badly registered, printed fabric made in China have poured into Cairo and people buy this rather that the real appliquéd pieces. On top of that disaster - tourism has stopped with unrest for the last two years. Without the work sold in to exhibitions that Jenny has been arranging in other countries the Tentmakers would all be gone by now - instead - stitchers who left are coming back and young ones are learning again. Much progress has been made but the work of the tentmakers is still hardly documented at all. There is not one piece in the Cairo Museum or even in the Cairo textile museum. The best article is in the Uncoverings magazine and there are no books. Older stitchers are dying and no history has been written.

Kim Beamish is an Australian friend of Jenny's who is making a film about the Tentmakers in these difficult times. Of Kim, Jenny writes:
He has given most of five days a week for the last seven months - or more. He has paid his own way to shows in England, and has had to pay for three more that have not even happened yet in France and two in America. He has become part of the street and the men are used to him and his camera. He has two young children and a wife who works in the Australian Embassy in Cairo. They have to pay a nanny so that he is free to film. He is, like I was, a trailing spouse. He did not choose to live the 'cocktail parties and bridge' life, but has chosen to go out on a limb to tell a very moving and necessary story. I know that at the moment he is on the bones of his behind financially and simply cannot afford anything else.
The movie of the Tentmakers will not be made without funding for the essentials - the long and boring stages when the filming is done and the hard work starts. Editing, top level translation and the rest has to be done by experts and paid for.
 Here is a link if you would like to help support the film:

Note that if you use PayPal it will ask you to preauthorise. It sounds odd but it simply means that when the total is reached the money will then be taken from people's accounts. No funding will be released for the film if the total funding is not raised - that is how Pozible works.

Jenny closed her post as follows:
I am hoping a lot of people will have read this far and be willing now to help us. PLEASE send this on to as wide an audience as you can reach. The moment the total is reached the project will be assured. Until then it looks as if it might be dead in the water.
Thank you
Jenny Bowker
Book - Pack and Follow -
Website and Blog -


  1. Thank you Judy. Very much appreciated. Lets hope we get to make a great film.