The Street of the Tentmakers – known as Sharia al-Khayamiya – is part of the Qasaba of Radwan Beya, the last seventeenth-century covered market in Cairo. Around 40 small stalls line the narrow street, each a three sided cube lined with the colourful product of their labour in blues, beige, red, purples and pinks. The hand appliquéd panels feature geometric designs and symmetrical flower motifs, while some include images of the garden of Eden including lotus flowers and exotic birds. These are mostly square or smaller rectangular wall hangings, neither bed-sized nor tents. Originally, larger panels would have been the components of ceremonial pavilions or tents, whose use dates back to the time of the Pharaohs. The ancient Egyptians might have had tents upon boats, with appliqué on canopies to cover the passengers or part of a funeral cortege. Fragments of appliqué have been found from burial sites of the Mamluk period in Egypt, around 500 years ago, while complete tents are preserved from the Ottoman period. Decorative and ornate tents were used in war campaigns as displays of wealth and strength and would have become part of the spoils of victory. These tents, called suradiq, composed of panels of heavy canvas backing that would have been laboriously stitched together and held up with tent poles and guy ropes to form awnings and pavilions. Not many older tents have survived the ravages of climate on the fabric, however there are some extant in museums from the Fatimid and Mamluk eras. The Ottoman-era tents that survive feature motifs from architecture, imitating the interiors of large halls with arches, spandrels and other architectural motifs. Smaller tourist versions, with classic Egyptian images would have been made for travellers from the late nineteenth century onwards and became even more popular after the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 bought an influx of visitors. The work became finer, smaller, brighter with a more international aesthetic, and of course, small enough to pack into a suitcase.The multicoloured appliqué on different backgrounds and within tight borders is characterised by thin strips of fabric. These appliqué strips are hand stitched into lotus flower patterns, long flowing stems, or geometrics. predominantly by men, with sons and young boys as apprentices learning on the job. The long strips are also used for calligraphy, Arabic scripts or Koranic extracts, along with abstracted, stylised patterns.The tentmakers sit cross-legged in their shops and typically stitch ten hours a day, six days a week. Apprentices start young and first learn to make a cushion, re-making it many times until it is perfect – this is their masterpiece – learning for sometimes a decade to earn their ‘scissors’. Scissors are then presented to them as a symbol of their graduation to professional status.First, the design is sketched out. If it is a symmetrical design a square of brown manila paper is folded along the centre, into quarters, then into four again into a fan shape with sixteen equal sections and the design drawn. Holes are then pierced through all the layers at regular intervals along the lines of the design. The paper template is unfolded and laid out over the background fabric and dark bag of charcoal or cinnamon is dusted over the pricked holes, white chalk is used on darker fabrics. The faint lines are then filled in with pencil to make them clearer to follow. The design is tacked onto a thicker canvas backing. The top fabric patches are cut on the bias for the curved edges and straight for others. The hand-stitches are worked through three layers of fabric, always in the same direction, catching slightly the background canvas underneath so no stitches show through on the other side, what a quilter might call an invisible, needle-turn appliqué stitch. The fabric is cut as they go along, with huge shears. There is a documentary film, made in 2015 that shows one craftsman (and they are almost exclusively men) sharpening his shears on the edge of a drinking glass, wiping them carefully before cutting small snips off the corners of the motif he’s applying.These days the panels might be used as hangings or room dividers for celebrations, such as weddings, but cheaper printed imitations have threatened this heritage industry. On top of this, tourism has declined because the unstable political situation since the 2011 revolution that became known as the Arab spring and now Covid-19 is endangering the livelihood of the tentmakers. Tentmaker Hany Abdel Kader made a private piece, ‘Tahrir Square, the Revolution,’ now in the collection of the Oriental Museum, Durham as contemporary war art as his response to the uprising. Bonnie Browning of the American Quilter’s Association and Jenny Bowker, whose husband was an Australian diplomat in Egypt, so had lived in the region, supported the tentmakers to travel to international fairs. They found a new and appreciative audience in the international quilting community who, having tried this themselves, understood how much work was involved. Dr Sam Bowker, son of Jenny, and Lecturer in Art History and Visual Culture, Charles Sturt University, has curated exhibitions of the tentmaker’s work and has written a book with Seif El Rashidi, The Tentmakers of Cairo: Egypt's Medieval and Modern Appliqué Craft (American University in Cairo Press, 2018). Dr Bowker points out that makers are now collaborating with contemporary artists and that what we see now is ‘the proud echo of a heritage that is constantly looking for new opportunities and changing to suit them’. Tentmakers have been proactive in finding new audiences and markets, moving online to find buyers at international fairs and a new audience in teaching workshops.Matisse, a well-known collector of textiles, famously used one of these panels as a curtain in his studio, as photographed by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Matisse’s painting, Interior with Egyptian Curtain (1948) was the last one he painted before embarking on his cutouts, perhaps inspired by the art of the tentmakers The Tentmakers of Chareh El Khiamiah, a documentary film written and directed by Kim Kim Beamish, is available online K. L. Bevan.