HANDS ON Traditional Crafts at The City of the Dead in Cairo

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Hasan Abd al-Aziz, cord-maker

Known as Hasan Lo’lo’ (“pearl” in Arabic), he learnt the profession from his father. Although he thinks of his trade as hereditary, he didn’t teach it to his children, as he thinks it cannot provide enough income to meet today’s standards of living. His two sons who received two-year diplomas are now working at a relatives’ business, and his daughter graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from the Faculty of Commerce at ‘Ain Shams University. In 1964, Hasan’s father got him a job at a construction company, but Hasan soon left it and continued in his father’s profession, a move that he still regrets.

 

Hasan produces cords of artificial silk dyed in different colours, which are used for fringes and embroidery patterns on clothing, mostly on galabiyas, the traditional long men’s robes, or women’s overcoats, abaya. In the old days, they were also used to make tassels for the tarbush (“fez”) headgear, once widely used but nowadays only worn by religious scholars. The market for such products is mostly Upper Egypt, where people still use traditional attire, unlike in Cairo.

 

Cord-making in Egypt is all done manually. In the process, before being twisted together into cords, the dyed threads dry out strung between rolls placed some fifty paces apart. This requires large open spaces, which are easy to find in the “City of the Dead” cemetery, unlike in the crowded streets of Historic Cairo. Archival photographs from the 19th century show that the trade has been practiced in the Qaitbey area for a long time.