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Sunday, 12 July 2020

In Photos: Dye workshop a colourful dip into old Cairo craft

Of the 23 historic dye workshops that used to service the city, only a handful remain

AFP , Sunday 26 Jan 2020
Workers dye
Workers dye yarns in a vat at a traditional hand-dying workshop in the Egyptian capital Cairo's centuries old district of Darb al-Ahmar on January 21, 2020. (Photo: AFP)
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In Cairo's centuries-old Darb al-Ahmar district, Salama Mahmoud Salama's traditional dye workshop is a multi-coloured hive of workers busy with all kinds of fabrics.

They lay out the long, flowing threads, to be used for everything from handmade shoes to rugs and drapes, and dip them in large, hot colour baths.

They have no gloves or masks to protect them from the dyes and fumes.

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A worker pours a bucket of water into a vat prior to dying yarns in a vat at a traditional hand-dying workshop in the Egyptian capital Cairo's centuries old district of Darb al-Ahmar on January 21, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

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Salama Mahmoud Salama, an 83-year-old dye workshop owner and operator, works with his relatives at his traditional hand-dying workshop in the Egyptian capital Cairo's centuries old district of Darb al-Ahmar on January 21, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

"We start by levelling the cotton out, then immersing it in dye and adding salt to get the colour right," 83-year-old Salama says one busy morning.

The workshop in Islamic Cairo has been going strong for almost 120 years.

"We rinse the wet threads before flattening them out in an electric presser and then leave them out to dry," he adds.

Of the 23 historic dye workshops that used to service the city, only a handful remain.

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Workers dye yarns at a traditional hand-dying workshop in the Egyptian capital Cairo's centuries old district of Darb al-Ahmar on January 21, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

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Workers dye yarns at a traditional hand-dying workshop in the Egyptian capital Cairo's centuries old district of Darb al-Ahmar on January 21, 2020 (Photo: AFP)

While industrial dye factories usually work with at least of a tonne of yarn at a time, Salama says he can colour as little as half a kilogramme (just over a pound).

His loyal clients come from all over Egypt, and even from Sudan and the United States.

But he says competition from foreign products has hurt the homegrown textile industry.

"In a popular store in Al-Azhar (in the heart of Islamic Cairo) a wool sweater sells for 200 pounds ($12.60), but you can find something similar on the street that's made in China for 30 pounds ($1.90)."

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Workers dye yarns in a vat at a traditional hand-dying workshop in the Egyptian capital Cairo's centuries old district of Darb al-Ahmar on January 21, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

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A worker carries undyed yarns to be processed at a traditional hand-dying workshop in the Egyptian capital Cairo's centuries old district of Darb al-Ahmar on January 21, 2020.(Photo: AFP)

The rise in the dye prices globally has also taken a toll on the niche industry.

To stay competitive, Salama has started using firewood instead of fuel to heat the baths.

Still, he is optimistic about the future of his craft.

"As long as people need clothes, this job will never die," he says with a glint in his eye.

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Mohamed Kamal, a 59-year-old dye worker, hangs dyed yarns out to dry in the sun at a traditional hand-dying workshop in the Egyptian capital Cairo's centuries old district of Darb al-Ahmar on January 21, 2020 (Photo: AFP)

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Salama Mahmoud Salama, an 83-year-old dye workshop owner and operator, prepares undyed yarns at his traditional hand-dying workshop in the Egyptian capital Cairo's centuries old district of Darb al-Ahmar on January 21, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

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Workers dye yarns at a traditional hand-dying workshop in the Egyptian capital Cairo's centuries old district of Darb al-Ahmar on January 21, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

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Salama Mahmoud Salama, an 83-year-old dye workshop owner and operator, spins undyed yarns at his traditional hand-dying workshop in the Egyptian capital Cairo's centuries old district of Darb al-Ahmar on January 21, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

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This picture taken on January 21, 2020 shows a view of operations at a traditional hand-dying workshop in the Egyptian capital Cairo's centuries old district of Darb al-Ahmar. (Photo: AFP)

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