Carpet Making in Egypt: Tuesdays of Texture

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© irene waters 2018

On our first day in Egypt we visited a carpet making school that was close to the pyramids at Saqqara. We were told that education is compulsory in Egypt up to the end of primary school level. In agricultural areas, however, the children were an integral part of the workforce – planting, harvesting etc and were needed in order for the family to survive. Someone came up with the idea of carpet schools where the children would not only learn a trade which would supplement the families income but would also give them some formal education – reading, writing and arithmetic.

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© irene waters 2018

We entered on the ground floor of a two story building and the manager took us over to one of the carpet makers. His fingers fairly flew as he tied knots. Our lecturer asked him to slow down so we could observe how it was done and even then I was in awe at the dexterity of his fingers.

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© irene waters 2018

I had been expecting to see young children but all the carpet weavers were of an older age – ex pupils who were now teachers and artisans in their own right. We saw wool carpets and silk being made either by knotting or on a loom.

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© irene waters 2018

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© irene waters 2018

We were then taken upstairs to the showroom where we were given a cup of hibiscus tea to enjoy as we wandered the finished articles. This was our first example of a showroom. Men hover waiting for you to start looking and then they pounce and don’t let you go.

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© irene waters 2018

We would have bought one but we weren’t given a chance to wander unhindered to allow us to decide which carpet was our favourite. We left without purchasing but we did enjoy the textures we saw.

About Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

I began my working career as a reluctant potato peeler whilst waiting to commence my training as a student nurse. On completion I worked mainly in intensive care/coronary care; finishing my hospital career as clinical nurse educator in intensive care. A life changing period as a resort owner/manager on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu was followed by recovery time as a farmer at Bucca Wauka. Having discovered I was no farmer and vowing never again to own an animal bigger than myself I took on the Barrington General Store. Here we also ran a five star restaurant. Working the shop of a day 7am - 6pm followed by the restaurant until late was surprisingly more stressful than Tanna. On the sale we decided to retire and renovate our house with the help of a builder friend. Now believing we knew everything about building we set to constructing our own house. Just finished a coal mine decided to set up in our backyard. Definitely time to retire we moved to Queensland. I had been writing a manuscript for some time. In the desire to complete this I enrolled in a post grad certificate in creative Industries which I completed 2013. I followed this by doing a Master of Arts by research graduating in 2017. Now I live to write and write to live.
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11 Responses to Carpet Making in Egypt: Tuesdays of Texture

  1. Baldy says:

    Amazing. I’d love to see this. It reminds me of a visit to Tunisia a few years ago. I was ‘accosted’ in the street by a shopkeepers son who said he worked at my hotel – I was invited to the shop to see sheep shearing… I sat down on a comfy sofa, was offered food and drinks, and then the hard sell began – rug after rug was put on the floor in front of me. Arghh – how did I fall for that? I made my excuses, and left behind some pretty irate Tunisians. Lol.

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    • I can see it happening to you. Once you accept drink it is hard to remove yourself. If only they could understand the culture we come from doesn’t go in for the high pressure salesmanship I feel they would have sold a lot more carpets than they did. At least we didn’t leave behind angry Tunisians. That would have been harder as yours was a personal invitation where we had turned up en masse in a minibus.

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  2. An ancient craft still made today with much the same old techniques. I suspect what you were shown was a controlled view – it might have been distressing to see young children working at looms. Still, how wonderful that you got a chance to see these gorgeous carpets as they were being constructed. I wonder how they knew where to place threads in order to create the elaborate patterns. Thanks for the tour, Irene.

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  3. I was recently in Uzbekistan and saw carpet-making there. So I was surprised to see that the “makers” in your photos from Egypt seemed to be all men. In Uzbekistan we saw only women, some young but no children. I had read a book about a UNESCO project to establish a carpet-making workshop for women in Khiva, which they would run and manage themselves. So I went out to look for it and succeeded! It is flourishing and the women are learning business skills along with expertise in knotting, weaving and embroidery. Best wishes, Judith

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    • The men were the feature that stood out on our trip. We did not see one single woman working apart from perhaps a bit of farming and the odd selling of produce in the local markets. They were notable by their absence. Perhaps they are in office jobs but certainly nowhere that they will be seen. Uzbekistan must be more liberal in their attitudes towards women.It is good to hear of projects like Khiva which are successful. Thanks for sharing your experiences with me.

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  4. Our guide in Uzbekistan insisted that, although the majority of the population are Muslim, it is not an Islamic country. That may be a good part of the explanation. We – eight friends and grandmothers from New Zealand -found the Uzbekis very friendly and were often invited to be on their wedding photos!
    Judith

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    • That is interesting because although Egypt has religious freedom it does consider itself an Islamic country and that may well be the difference. Funny about the weddings because we found exactly the same in Egypt and we saw a lot of weddings. Perhaps a stranger brings good luck to the couple.

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  5. Charli Mills says:

    I’m surprised at how similar the process is to that of Navajo blanket weavers. Of course, the designs are vastly different.

    Liked by 1 person

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