Rotate Editions’ Kheyameya project matches modern design with traditional craft

Anthony Burrill, APFEL, Damien Poulain and Rhonda Drakeford have contributed designs which have been made into traditional Egyptian wall hangings in a bid to keep the craft alive

Egyptian Kheyameya artists, or ‘tentmakers’, have for centuries created large-scale appliqué pieces to line the interiors of tents used for ceremonies including marriages and funerals, and also for religious festivals.

According to Roanne Bell of Rotate Editions, the process has since been replaced by machine-made versions, knocked out by factories at a fraction of the price and beauty. Today, imported, badly printed cotton examples are the norm.

'Tentmaker' Ashraf Hashem's workshop in Cairo. Photo: Dana Smillie
‘Tentmaker’ Ashraf Hashem’s workshop in Cairo. Photo: Dana Smillie

Genuine hand-stitched Kheyameya are today largely sold as homewares (wall hangings, bedspreads and cushions). The artisans who make them increasingly rely on exports, but most are struggling, Bell says.

In order to highlight their plight and raise awareness of this unique craft tradition, Rotate Editions has produced a limited edition series of Kheyameya wall hangings: a collaboration between four European graphic artists and two Kheyameya artists.

Anthony Burrill's three Kheyameya designs. Photo: Renee Arns
Anthony Burrill’s three Kheyameya designs. Photo: Renee Arns

Anthony Burrill; A Practice For Everyday Life; Damien Poulain and Rhonda Drakeford of Darkroom have all had designs produced by two Egyptian ‘tentmakers’ – Ashraf Hashem and Hassan Omar (Yahia).

APFEL's Kheyameya. Photo: Renee Arns
APFEL’s Kheyameya. Photo: Renee Arns

Traditionally the design of each Kheyameya is first drawn on a large sheet of brown paper. For this project, Bell explains, the designs were instead printed to scale.

Photo: Dana Smillie
Photo: Dana Smillie

The outline of each pattern is pricked out by fine needlepoint in tens of thousands of small holes and this perforated sheet of paper is then laid onto the background canvas. A black carbon dust is sprinkled lightly over the paper so that the dust percolates through the holes leaving a stencil outline of the pattern on the cloth.

The design is then drawn onto the background canvas in pencil, using the ‘dusted’ dots as a guide and each piece of the pattern then hand-stitched into place.

Burrill's finished design. Photo: Dana Smillie
Burrill’s finished design. Photo: Dana Smillie

A limited edition of eleven examples of each of the fourteen designs will be available to order. A series of screenprints of some of the designs is also planned.

The Kheyameya wallhangings will be on show at the Bert & May warehouse as part of the London Design Festival 2016, until September 25. Details here

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