Treasures of the Tentmakers: Discovering Egyptian Khayamiya

Hi folks,

I will give a free public lecture for the Centre of Arab and Islamic Studies in the Australian National University on Friday 18 October at 2pm.  This will review highlights of my research so far, focusing on major developments in the history of Khayamiya. You are most welcome to attend, and please share this PDF flyer far and wide.

ANU CAIS Treasures of the Tentmakers Bowker 18 Oct 2013

On other news, the research and lecturing tour of the UK and Ireland was a great success. Plenty of new material was gathered for upcoming articles, and plans are in progress for the extended international tour of the exhibition “Khayamiya: Khedival to Contemporary”. Thank you very much to James and Claire Birch and Amy Claridge of Doddington Hall, Venetia Porter, Helen Wolfe and Cynthia McGowan of the British Museum, Catherine Wynne of the University of Hull, Ann Murray and Alan Drumm of the University of Cork, Jim Piscatori of the University of Durham, and Craig Barclay of the Oriental Museum in Durham, and Joan and John Fisher, for all your generous help.

Studying Khedival Khayamiya from the British Museum's collection in Blythe House, London. Cynthia McGowan, Joan Fisher and Helen Wolfe pictured, photograph by Sam Bowker on Tuesday 10 September 2013.
Studying Khedival Khayamiya from the British Museum’s collection in Blythe House, London. Cynthia McGowan, Joan Fisher and Helen Wolfe pictured, photograph by Sam Bowker on Tuesday 10 September 2013.

Finally, if you would like to see new images of the first installation of this exhibition in Wagga Wagga, including intimate close-up photographs of these spectacular hand-made textiles, Aaron James Neal has generously uploaded a portfolio of his superb photographs to this link:  http://wagganow.com.au/gallery-khayamiya-khedival-to-contemporary/

4 thoughts on “Treasures of the Tentmakers: Discovering Egyptian Khayamiya

  1. Hi Sam – I am working on a sampler for canvas work embroidery. Many sources state that the term canvas work arose from the egyptian use of tent stitch to sew their tents together. I wonder if you know what the coarse fabric underneath is made of – cotton, linen, hemp? – and roughly what count that fabric is (how many ends (threads) per inch there are in the weaving). The underneath fabric looks like even weave in the wonderful close up photographs you have linked to – can you confirm that? With this information I can get some fabric approximating the original then use tent stitch to embroider a facsimile of one of the patterns on the inner walls of an egyptian tent. Hope you can help. Thank you again for bringing these wonderful works more into the public eye

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  2. Hi Sam – I am working on a sampler for canvas work embroidery. Many sources state that the term canvas work arose from the egyptian use of tent stitch to sew their tents together. I wonder if you know what the coarse fabric underneath is made of – cotton, linen, hemp? – and roughly what count that fabric is (how many ends (threads) per inch there are in the weaving). The underneath fabric looks like even weave in the wonderful close up photographs you have linked to – can you confirm that? With this information I can get some fabric approximating the original then use tent stitch to embroider a facsimile of one of the patterns on the inner walls of an egyptian tent. Hope you can help. Thank you again for bringing these wonderful works more into the public eye

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    1. Thank you Brenda for your comment and questions, I’m very pleased to hear about your sampler project and research into the history of embroidery.

      The coarse fabric varies slightly from piece to piece, but they are consistently even weaves that resemble linen. The oldest pieces appear to have been made on a hand-operated loom with very slight inconsistencies in the fibres. Most distinctive is the fact that the panels are consistently about shoulder width, and most feature striking blue (indigo?) stripes consistent with manufactured European linens.

      The backing fabrics for old Khayamiya appear to be linens, but Nurhan Atasoy (in her excellent book on the Ottoman Imperial Tent Complex) identifies several blended fabrics that were made specifically for tents (across pages 107-111). These went by different names in Turkish, but even Atasoy is not completely sure what the ratios of the components were. It appears that the most typical ‘broadcloth’ (kirpas in Turkish) for Ottoman tents was a mixture of linen, cotton and hemp (Atasoy 2000: 110). After consideration of both Ottoman Tents and Egyptian Khayamiya, I am confident these backing canvases are essentially the same thing.

      The Tentmakers of Cairo today use a heavy cotton fabric, which is more densely woven than the older Khedivals. I will be back with a thread count for both ASAP.

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