Weaving in Harrania, Egypt

Because our daughter Jessica is a weaver, John and Paul and Jessica and I made a point to visit the amazing Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Centre in Harrania, near Giza, during our recent trip to Egypt. We had to insist that our guide take us there (Wissa Wassef does not give the guides kickbacks) but it was well worth making a fuss to see. We went back a second time later! Here is a description of how Ramses Wissa Wassef started this impressive craft center:

Ramses’ interest in tapestry weaving began in 1941 when he was asked by a social welfare organisation to design a small centre in Cairo. While designing the building he asked permission to teach a small group of the children to weave, thus beginning his “experiment in creativity.” Weaving seemed the perfect medium to bring together his appreciation for traditional craftsmanship with the innate creativity of children, which he believed was damaged by routine and formalised education. After apprenticing himself to a weaver to master the basic techniques and exploring natural dyes Ramses began to pass on these skills to a small group of the schoolchildren. Using a high-warp loom, similar to those found millenia before in Ancient Egypt, the children began to weave in local wool dyed with natural dyes such as indigo, cochineal, madder, and reseda. Encouraged by the success of these experiments in 1951 Ramses and his wife Sophie began building a workshop near the small village of Harrania, ten miles from Cairo. At that time no weaving was done in the area, although since the success of the Centre imitations have become widespread. [From About the Art Centre]

We bought two books, some postcards, a ceramic sheep and a bowl, and a delightful small woven tapestry at Wissa Wassef. The larger statues in the gardens were remarkable but there was no way we could get one home. The weaving is so tight on our tapestry that I cannot put my fingernail between the threads.  Most of the tapestries in the Wissa Wassef museum were very large; I am pleased to have a small but lovely sample of this work.  The books are:

  • Egyptian Landscapes: 50 Years of Tapestry Weaving at the Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Centre, Cairo by Hilary Weir, Suzanne Wissa Wassef, Yoanna Wissa Wassef, Opus Publishing Ltd (2006)
  • Threads of Life: A Journey in Creativity by E. A. De Stefano, Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center (1991)

We also toured two commercial rug factories while we were in Harrania. One place was producing some very good work – the El Harrania Factory.  The owner generously gave my daughter some of his wool as a souvenir and said he trained at Wissa Wassef. The second factory we went to was unremarkable for either quality or creativity (but the prices were very high) – that was the one our guide wanted us to go to!

Wissa Wassef Art Centre

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El Harrania Factory

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Images Copyright 2010 by Katy Dickinson and John Plocher

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