The Egyptian Tapestry Weaves:  A Few Details

Immediacy, liveliness and pleasing tactile qualities are essential characteristics for any successful tapestry art. These qualities depend, in part, upon a sensitive relationship between the scale of the weave and each design part as well as the overall image. Weavers inevitably learn that while coarseness is unappealing, over-refinement drains life from the work; achieving both fine articulation and vigorous imagery requires a delicate balancing act.

In each detail of the lyrical folk art weavings below, we can sense the hand of the artisan. I've scanned pieces to show a variety of approaches. These details convey the inherent strength gained through structural designing. It is important to remember that these naive woven images are very different from paintings imitated or designs copied. The internal rhythm and life in these expressions has grown out of the process itself. Each photo below shows an 8"x 11" section; of course with such small details it is especially difficult to capture the spirit of a large tapestry. 

Throughout the site you will find scanned details of tapestries, so be sure to click on those links as you look at individual pieces.       

         Marla Mallett.  E-mail:

Birds and Fish Pond
Hedya Mondy
The tapestry above exemplifies the delicate, detailed work of some weavers in the village of Harrania; the broader expressions below are more typical of pieces from other areas.  If you have not yet read about the development of this vibrant folk art form, be sure to check out The Wissa Wassef Story.

Trees by the Stream

Sheep Under the Trees

Tapestries can be woven in either direction on the loom.  The pieces above have been woven vertically, those below, sideways.  If woven right-side-up on the loom, design elements are most naturally horizontal -- as weft yarns are woven back and forth from left to right in each small pattern area, then coaxed into place. As you can see, graceful curved shapes can be produced, as well as delicate horizontal linear details.

In contrast, the pieces below were woven sideways, so the shapes are predominantly vertical. These forms can, of course, be shaped with graceful curves as well. 

Yellow Field
Sherifa Ebrahim

Rowhia Ali

The detail above shows the distinctive style of Rowhia Ali, a talented artist who learned tapestry weaving as a child many years ago and only recently resumed her work. 
The River
The pieces above and below show styles developed by artisans either working independently at home or in small village studios. The subjects include both landscapes and depictions of daily life. Whether simple or complex, the tapestries have been chosen for their sensitive designing and subtle color. In these scans I have focused on plant forms to contrast varying approaches. 
Along the Canal
It is inevitable that the products of artists working together should take on stylistic similarities; thus proximity, along with constant structural and technical limitations, has helped to shape a distinctive Egyptian folk-art tapestry style. 
"Quality" differences among the tapestries are difficult to define, and arguments over aesthetics can be endless. It is easy to like different pieces for different reasons -- they reflect a range of  artistic personalities and temperaments. Coarse, primitive pieces with naive imagery may sometimes be irresistible, and children's products must be judged by different standards than mature work. Regardless of their scale, I have selected pieces that are well crafted, with vibrant colors and good materials, along with strong design. Choices of subject, imagery and artistic expression, however, are ultimately matters of personal taste.

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Marla Mallett
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