Markaz’s primary partners are the talented Egyptian artisans. The artisans include men and women from marginalized communities in both rural villages and urban cities across Egypt. Most of the artisans are women although some crafts are made by men. Their sons and daughters are often involved in the process as they observe and learn the craft from their parents. This is in line with Markaz’s philosophy of ensuring that crafts-making skills are passed on from one generation to another.
All of the crafts sold at Markaz are made by local Egyptian artisans. Almost 40% of those crafts are created by artisans and then sold by Markaz as they are without the Markaz branding. Although these artisans get some guidance from Markaz on quality standards, the design and form of the craft is created by the artisans and not by Markaz. On the other hand, the remaining 60% of crafts sold at Markaz carry the registered trademark as Markaz is involved in all stages of their creation, from start to finish. These crafts are designed by Markaz but use the traditional skills from artisans from different areas.
In many cases, one product will include components from a number of different governorates using different skills. The final Markaz product is finished by a local NGO in Cairo. This is one of the ways in which Markaz is extremely unique. A product sold at Markaz often includes a number of different skills from different areas around Egypt. Markaz is able to bring these skills together to create one-of-a-kind products that are as unique as the places that they come from.
Embroidery is a very intricate skill that requires both attention to detail and knowledge of traditional patterns and designs. It relies on needlework used to embellish any kind of fabric through the use of sewing and stitching. This traditional skill aims to decorate fabric, and sometimes other materials as well, with ornamental stitching using thread or yarn. In addition to the stitching, embroidery often incorporates other materials such as beads and sequins to further decorate the fabric.
Although no one really knows where the skill of embroidery originated, early illustrations of embroidery can be seen in a number of areas including Ancient Egypt, Northern Europe and China’s Zhou Dynasty. It is interesting to note that this traditional skill remains largely unchanged from its early days. In fact, the basic stitching techniques and materials of the past bear a strong similarity to the ones used by craftspeople today.
There are many kinds of embroidery which differ both in terms of the technique used as well as the medium on which the embroidery is done. Traditional embroidery can be done on fabrics such as wool, linen and silk and employ a array of traditional designs emanating from the culture from which it originates. For instance, women in the Sinai employ the traditional skill of embroidery to decorate pillows, bedcovers and a wide range of other cloth products. Siwan women, on the other hand, have mastered the art of embroidery to create a series of rather unique designs and colors on everything from dresses to shawls, bags and purses. From the Dakhla Oasis in the Western Desert to the shantytowns of Cairo, women use the traditional skill of embroidery to decorate crafts and make beautiful cloth products for everyday use.
Specifically, Markaz works with the residents of Siwa to revive the traditional craft of embroidery. This is a craft that is based on the Siwan heritage and on a sense of ornamentation that has long been part of the Siwan culture. Siwan embroidery is unique in that it uses five key colors that represent the stages of growth. These are green, yellow, red, black, and orange. Siwans also make frequent use of buttons within their embroidery.
In Sinai, Markaz works in St. Catherine, Nabq, and Noweiba with by marketing and selling their embroidered crafts. Markaz also incorporates crafts from the Sinai into its own branded products such as pillows and bedcovers. The products, which are designed and made by Markaz, are sent to St. Catherine to be embellished with beading and embroidery by its local craftspeople.
In the Western Desert, Markaz first began working with residents of the Dakhla Oasis in the year 2000 with the objective of reviving its traditional embroidered crafts. And in 2002, Markaz also worked briefly with women from the Bahareyya Oasis by providing them with income generation opportunities through the production of local embroidered crafts.
Weaving is an age-old skill that has been utilized in Egypt since the time of its Pharaonic rulers. The traditional skill of weaving comes in many forms and uses many mediums. These mainly include wool weaving, linen weaving, cotton weaving and basket weaving.
Textile weaving uses different sets of yarn or thread which are interwoven to create a fabric. The weaving of cloth is usually done on a loom which is an ancient device created to interlace the threads with one other. Although the exact history of weaving is unknown, this ancient skill has been an integral part of many developing civilizations around the world. Early humans used cloth weaving to meet their basic needs for shelter and clothing. It is also believed that basket weaving in particular is one of the earliest forms of crafts made by humans. Recent evidence from archaeological findings in Turkey suggests that weaving dates all the way back to 7000 or 8000 BC. Other evidence of early weaving can be found in Fayoum in Egypt and dates back to around 5000 BC.
Specifically, Markaz works with women in Northern Sinai on the revival of crafts utilizing the skill of wool weaving. Sinai is home to a large number of unique and distinct crafts including the use of floor looms for wool weaving.
In addition to the Sinai, Souhag’s economy is dependent on several industries which include the weaving industry. The skill of hand weaving in Souhag is an ancient one that has been handed down from one generation to the next. Most hand weavers in Souhag are among the elderly and it is unlikely to find hand weavers among members of the younger generation. The weavers of Akhmeem in Souhag 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.
The main craft that exists in the governorate of Matrouh is wool weaving. As a result of the ample rain that Matrouh receives, it is home to rich and fertile farms and livestock such as sheep. The wool extracted from these sheep forms the basis of the wool weaving industry in Matrouh. The kind of loom used by the local residents of Matrouh is the traditional floor loom from which a wide range of products such as carpets and textiles are produced.
The governorate of Qena is known for making crafts based on cotton and linen weaving. Specifically, the weavers in Nagada work on cotton and linen weaving to produce a number of products for Markaz which include shawls as well as cloth per meter used by Markaz for the production of its own products.
El Mahalla El Kobra, on the other hand, is a source of yarn cones for most of Egypt’s small businesses. This industry continues to be a key source of income for all weaving sectors in Egypt as well as small businesses working with weaving by-products. El Mahalla El Kobra provides almost all of the yarn and thread that Markaz uses in its production cycle. This thread is used specifically for weaving purposes. The thread is often sent out to governorates for use by local artisans who do the weaving of specific products for Markaz.
Basket weaving is yet another distinct form of weaving practiced by a number of traditional communities around Egypt. In the year 2000, Markaz began working with the local residents of the Dakhla Oasis on reviving basket weaving crafts through a local partner. Baskets created by the artisans in the Dakhla Oasis are subsequently marketed and sold by Markaz in an effort to generate income for these artisans. Basket weaving, in particular, became the heart of Markaz’s crafts revival efforts with the residents of the Dakhla Oasis. The making of baskets is a craft that has emerged as a direct result of the environment in the Dakhla Oasis. The baskets, which are made out of palm trees, reflect a natural oasis environment rich with these very palm trees. In 2002, Markaz also worked briefly with residents of the Bahareyya Oasis who employed their basket weaving skills to make traditional local baskets.
In addition to basket weaving from the Western Desert, Markaz also revives and develops this craft from Nag3 Ghalalab in Western Aswan. The women make a wide range of traditional crafts such as bread baskets. Other areas in which craftspeople utilize the skill of basket weaving include the Red Sea areas of Wadi El-Gemal, Shalateen and Marsa Allam. This environment, which is rich in palm trees as well as fertile land for goat grazing, has had a direct impact on the production of crafts such as baskets. Residents of Marsa Allam combine both basket weaving and leather crafts to make unique baskets interwoven with leather.
The skill of tasseling is employed to create “tassles” which are decorative ornaments used on curtains, pillows and upholstered furniture. It consists of a group of loose threads which are bound together on one end to create these decorative fringes. Tasseling is often used as a finishing and decorative step in making crafts. Although it has been used by several cultures around the world, tasseling has always been a central feature of fabric decoration in Egypt.
Specifically, Markaz works with the women of Sinai to revive and develop crafts which utilize the skill of tasseling. The tassels they create are used to decorate several of Markaz’s cloth products such as pillows and upholstered furniture items.
Beading is a skill that is used to embellish and decorate fabrics by sewing different beads to the cloth to create a decorative pattern.
Beading may be used to complement crafts which are created using various other skills such as embroidery and weaving. By using different sizes, colors, and textures of beads, intricate and unique designs are created to decorate everything from clothing to cloth furnishings such as pillows and bedcovers. There are an infinite number of ways in which different kinds of beads can be put together to create traditional designs which reflect the culture from which they originated. Historically, various cultures have employed the skill of beading to decorate cloth and the skill itself dates back to almost 5,000 years.
In Egypt, Markaz works in a number of areas to revive and develop crafts which employ the traditional skill of beading. In Nag3 Ghalalab in the Western Aswan, women working with Markaz through a local NGO make a wide range of beaded crafts which are sold by Markaz. In the Sinai as well, Markaz works with Bedouin women who make unique embroidered and beaded crafts. These crafts are in fact designed by Markaz and are sent to St. Catherine in the Sinai to be decorated with embroidery and beading. They include a wide range of crafts such as pillows, bedcovers and various embroidered and beaded cloth products.
Tatting is a traditional skill employed by women around the world to create intricate lace details using either a shuttle or a needle. Through the creation of a series of loops and knots, lace patterns are created and are often used to decorate the trimmings of shawls, headscarves, and collars. Dating back to the early 19th century, this skill is believed to have originated in France where similar lace patterns have been found.
Although there is no direct evidence of when the skill of tatting was introduced to women in Egypt, anecdotal evidence collected from the women in Damietta indicates that it was introduced by German and Dutch nuns. The women of Damietta are known for their skills in tatting. Markaz plays a role in reviving this local craft by further modernizing it to make it more appealing and desirable to contemporary markets. This entails the use of new designs, colors and shapes. Tatting is typically used to decorate head scarves, prayer scarves, handkerchiefs, towels, table cloths and napkins. The work is sewn onto the edges of these items or on sleeves and hems of traditional dresses.
Metal & Glass
Glass making was a craft raised to an art form during the Mamluke period. Nowadays there are only a few small workshots left doing the work, and their products are generally limited to tableware. Markaz works with glass-blowers in Cairo to help produce accessories and tableware to compliment many of Markaz products. Some products are embellished by using skills from other areas around Egypt, for example, tasseling and beading work.
Metal work has been practiced almost uninterruptedly since pharoanic times in Egypt. Markaz works with metal workers that handmake each products using traditional hammering techniques that can provide embellishments with ancient Egyptian and Phoaronic design patterns
Metal workers generally produce all kinds of dining and tableware items, from containers, trays, serving plates and various other items that Markaz continues to decorate using Artisan skills from other areas of Egypt