From the moment Huda Ouda opened her eyes, she found her mom was fond of embroidery; not only because it’s her one and only source of income, but also because it’s her way of reflecting her culture and perceptions of beauty. Through stitching colours and fabrics on bags, dresses, chains, and scarves, women from all corners of the country express their infatuation with embroidery.
Years after, Ouda inherited that passion and profession. With the help of Fair Trade Egypt, her products, among those of her peers, are currently available worldwide for people to purchase. Ouda’s work among many others was displayed in Fair Trade Egypt’s latest exhibition: “Embroidery in Egypt”.
The exhibition showcases all types of embroidery work from all governorates around Egypt. Aiming to introduce people to the different types of stitches, colours, and embroidered shapes, it aims to enlighten people towards the differences in needlework between Siwa, Sinai, Upper Egypt, and the country side.
The 60 products on display present five different types of embroidery; each comes from the country’s rural areas. The exhibition also includes pictures of the ladies while sewing.
“Knowing the history of embroidery made me explore the Egyptian identity,” said Mona El-Sayed, Fair Trade Egypt’s CEO. “At the beginning, they might all look similar, but after a while, one can detect where each piece comes from.”
The necklace stitch is usually used in the countryside. As the easiest and simplest stitch, it’s usually used to portray natural scenes. As for the cross stitch, it’s mostly used in Sinai, especially in the north, and the embroidery is usually the most complicated, with a mixture of different colours. The third type of stitch people are introduced to is Siwa’s. Through this type, visitors get to see how women of Siwa write in the Berber language and use only green, yellow, orange, red, and black colours. These colours represent the colours of dates, Siwa’s most famous product.
As for El-Taly, it’s a special type of embroidery only women in Upper Egypt are familiar with. It includes Pharaonic, Islamic, and Coptic symbols from ancient Egyptian heritage represented by symbols for the sun, water, and different gods.
“Embroidery is one of the few genuine heritage Egyptian women share all across the country,” said Amira Nabil, Fair Trade Egypt’s marketing officer. “It’s one of society’s handicrafts that is reserved for women. Through this type of art, ladies express their thoughts, beliefs, life concepts, and their relationships with their surrounding elements through something as simple as a needle and some coloured fabrics.”
In downtown’s Dawar art space, and until the end of February, visitors get to see the difference between the sewing types, the colours used in each side, and the life story of women producing such products.
“Embroidery changes women in a certain society. Other than the passion it sparks in their lives, it’s the only source of income they have which allows them to enhance their lives,” Nabil added.
The exhibition also screens short films which were shot in North Sinai and Upper Egypt that feature the daily life of these women and how they inherited the handicrafts over the years.
Ouda’s story among many others was shot by Fair Trade Egypt’s team to raise people’s awareness towards supporting handmade products.
Sinai’s most famous embroidery comes with bright fluorescent colours. Over the years, each tribe came up with a special geometric figure marking their identity. Years after, it became am identification marker for the tribes.
“One of our most famous marks in Sinai is the wedding dress. It has to be extremely bright and colourful. It can take up to three years to make the perfect wedding gown,” said one lady in one of the screened films.
Fair Trade Egypt is a non-profit organisation with showrooms in Zamalek and Maadi, offering a place to sell a variety of disadvantaged artisans’ handcrafted goods. All items in the store are manufactured in Egypt by artisans located in provinces across in the country, including Fayoum, Sinai, Aswan, and Cairo.
The philosophy of Fair Trade Egypt is to keep these crafts alive in the Egyptian market, to help prevent their extinction and, more importantly, to financially support these artisans by providing a way to sell their goods.
It also works as a link between artisans and buyers, presenting the goods at fair prices and making sure that the artisans receive fair wages and work in a healthy environment.