Masters of the Craft series: Women of Metemdia village and their joyful rural embroidery

Amira Noshokaty , Tuesday 19 Dec 2023

In the second article of our series Masters of the Craft, we highlight the women behind one of Egypt's most colorful and joyful rural embroidery.

Metemdya ladies in action.
Metemdya ladies in action. Photos by Engy Eleslamboly


The Masters of the Craft series was created in collaboration with Fair-Trade Egypt.

In the second article of our Masters of the Craft series, we highlight the women behind some of Egypt's most colorful and joyful rural embroidery.

At the small premises of their NGO, three generations of women from Metemdia village in Giza gathered around the wooden table and filled the day with colorful stitches.

"I do not know how old I am," said Nadia Bekhiet, "but I know I have been working in this craft for about 35 years," she laughed. For three decades, the skillful talented hands captured colorful scenes from Egyptian rural lives in stitches. Rural embroidery is the art of sketching with colorful stitches the scenery of rural Egyptian life, from fishing to baking bread, displayed on textile tableaus or tote bags, cushions, or table cloth.  

From 7 women to 150    

“I was a widow with young children, I needed work to support my family. I married off my three daughters because of this work,” Bekhiet told Ahram Online. “It takes me about a month and a half to finish one item. I do not design, but no one picks the color but me,” she boasted.  “I love blue, pink, and fuchsia."

Bekhiet remembers the first time she held a needle in her hand. “I first knew about sewing from Madame Penny, who taught us in Zamalek, along with 7 other women. Eventually, we became 150 women working in the sewing workshop," Bekhiet added.

 “I even taught my daughters. The best thing about this craft is that it brings good money to support us. I would pay the water, and electricity bills from such revenues and buy food, for my late husband’s pension was 1,500 EGP. However, the worst thing about this trade is that it affects the eyes, due to excessive concentration," she added.


Drawing on events  

Mervat Eissa sat quietly, with the blue pen in her hand and started to draw on the white fabric. When asked if she ever worries about making a mistake, she answered that she thinks hard before drawing, so she rarely makes any mistakes.

"I learned how to draw and design about 12 years ago. At first, I joined my relative in my work, then I got to join the Women of Metemdia NGO. I always focus on seasons; in Ramadan, we draw the lantern, al-Mesaharati (The one who wakes Muslims to eat before dawn fasting in Ramadan), during Christmas, it’s a Christmas tree. I also focus on rural embroidery; however currently I am working on the drawings of an ancient Egyptian olla (clay water pot), that is found in the ancient Egyptian museum.”

The Women of Metemdia NGO was established in the nineties, and since then it has managed to successfully transmit rural embroidery, an element of intangible cultural heritage, from one generation to another.

The art of needlework, hand weaving, and textiles dates back to ancient Egypt, and there are whole governorates famous for their unique styles, such as the Akhmim needlework of Sohag governorate, Talli in Assiut, Shandawil, and the textiles of Neqada.

In 2020, the Egyptian manual-textile industry in Upper Egypt (Qena, Aswan, and Sohag) was added to UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage sites in need of urgent preservation.

“Our best sellers are the rural village scenery, palm trees, the pyramids, and the sphinx," noted Mona Attia who has been stitching for 35 years.

An art or a craft?

When asked about the value of this craft, most of the women agreed that it brings good revenue and helps them feel good, however, it does affect greatly their eyesight because it requires considerable concentration.

To designer and color coordinator, Wafaa Saleh, this is an ideal craft. “I love it because I do the work surrounded by my children and at my house,” Saleh explained.

But to Nagwa Nagi, who has stitched for 18 years, it teaches patience. “It brings out the art in me. If there is something torn, I can easily stitch and mend it," she told Ahram Online.

Mervat Sedhom, and Azza Fahmy, after working for over 25 years in this craft, believe rural embroidery to be great for stress relief. Jomana and Monica, both young teens who learned the craft from their mothers, consider it a good hobby, as well as a profession.

“I think this is real art; when I finish it, I love it and it feels good," Eissa said.

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