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Tentmakers of Cairo: Teaching an Ancient Art

Ever since 2015 when the Tentmakers of Cairo made their first appearance at Road to California, their classes on the ancient art of applique have always sold out. Road 2020 was no different.

ancient art

Who are the Tentmakers of Cairo

The Tentmakers of Cairo are from Khan Khayamiya—the Market of the Tentmakers — located in the heart of Old Islamic Cairo. It is here that this particular form of applique is taught and preserved.

ancient art

Anciently, this type of artwork was used to line tents or screens covered in appliqué that would decorate a whole street. Amazing pattern pieces were created and stitched based on geometry, sacred texts, and ancient artwork. The Tentmakers’ brilliantly colored appliqué is still used today for ceremonial purposes at weddings, funerals, henna parties, or Ramadan celebrations. Unfortunately, it is quickly becoming a lost art form due to machines being used to replace the hand-made items. Another problem is unscrupulous businesses are copying and selling off the Tentmakers’ unique designs.

Coming to Road to California

International textile artist and Road to California teacher, Jenny Bowker, learned of the modern-day Tentmaker’s plight with the possibility of losing their ancient art. She helped shed light on the critical situation by curating a Special Exhibit, Stitch Like An Egyptian, which first came to Road in 2015.

In that exhibit, two Egyptian Tentmakers, Hosam Hanafy Ahmed Mahmoud and Tarek Abdelhay Hafez Abouelenin were on hand to demonstrate their method of appliqué. They also assisted Jenny in teaching her classes that year on their methods.  

Because of the popularity of this exhibit, Road invited Hosam and Tarek to return in 2017. That year, they still demonstrated in the special exhibit but they also took a more active role in teaching their ancient art. In addition, they brought many completed quilts to sell with the proceeds being used back in Cairo to promote new artists learning the tentmaker’s skills.

The Tentmakers at Road 2020

For Road 2020, two new tentmakers came to teach the ancient art of tentmaking in Road classes. Ahmad Kamal and Ekramy Hanafy were thrilled to be sharing their ancient art and meeting their fans. Ahmad said of his Road to California experience, “Wow!! {This has been a} pleasant experience for us.”

ancient art

Diane and Sally are friends from Irvine, California who took the tentmaker’s class. Diane signed up for the class because Sally wanted to learn needle-turn applique. Diane said, “I was so glad I came. I learned a lot.” Sally added, “This was the absolute best instruction. Their technique is very unique. There was no language barrier during the class as we watched everything they did with their hands.”

Pam has been quilting for 18 years and came to Road from Indiana. She had met Ahmad at a previous quilting event the year before. She bought a quilt from him there and decided she wanted to take a class when the opportunity came up. “I loved the class. What an incredible technique!!” And an extra bonus for Pam was learning all the wonderful Egyptian history.

ancient art

Joe is from San Jose, California. He took the Egyptian Tentmakers’ class because he does a lot of hand applique and wanted to learn this ancient art method. “This was new, different and slow,” said Joe, comparing it the other applique he does.

Cindi has been quilting and coming to Road to California for the past 5 years. She wanted to learn the technique and buy a quilt from the tentmakers. “I’m hooked and my husband is hooked too ever since he read their book, “Tentmakers of Cairo.”

Road to California was pleased to offer this international class focusing on this ancient art.    

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