Sohag belongs to the Nile Valley and Delta eco-zone. Lying on both banks of the Nile River, this Upper Egyptian governorate boasts agricultural land that is both rich and fertile. Sohag’s economy is dependent on several industries, including agriculture, spinning, weaving and tourism. The city is also home to a large Orthodox Coptic minority and it counts, among its touristic sites, a number of important 20th century churches, such as the Church of the Holy Virgin and the Church of Saint George, as well as several monasteries which include the Coptic White Monastery and the Red Monastery.

The majority of residents in Sohag’s city of Akhmim are Orthodox Copts. It is important to note however that there are strong and age-old relationships between Akhmim’s Coptic and Muslim communities, especially when it comes to hand weaving. This is because their work is inextricably linked and therefore so is their income.

The process of hand weaving involves the entire family as both the men and the women participate in creating these unique crafts. The weaving process begins with the purchase of raw yarn in large quantities for the loom. The loom is ultimately prepared based on the end product that will be produced. Most families set up the loom inside their homes and work on producing these wonderful crafts within the confines of their own homes. Essentially, this is one of the oldest family-run businesses.

The ancient skill of hand weaving has been handed down from one generation to the next. Most hand weavers in Sohag are among the elderly though and it is unlikely to find hand weavers among members of the younger generation. The disinterest in hand weaving among Sohag’s youth has caused many to fear that this skill may not pass on to the younger generation and that it may therefore be at risk of being lost and forgotten; something Markaz continues to work on as part of its core philosophy.

Markaz began working in Akhmim in Sohag with the Cooperative for Productive Families, which falls under the Ministry of Social Affairs, in 1996. Through the Cooperative’s network, Markaz was able to identify two Master Weavers to work with. Today, Markaz partners directly with these men and has been able to develop a sustainable system of crafts development and sales that provides a steady income to the many weavers of Sohag.

Although the weaving process includes members of the entire family, the job of Master Weaver is always reserved for the men in the family. In Sohag therefore, all of the Master Weavers are men. The Master Weaver has a very special relationship with his team of weavers. He provides both the capital and the raw materials and makes a large investment in the loom.

The weavers of Akhmim in Sohag are particularly skilled in hand weaving of both linen and cotton. Through this skill, they produce a multitude of crafts including unique table cloths, bed covers, shawls, kitchen towels, napkins as well as cloth sold by the meter.