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The embroiderers of Dar al-Kiswa in Cairo
London, United Kingdom
Khalili Family Trust – Hajj and the Arts of Pilgrimage Collection
circa 1940s – early 50s
Passport-size photographs, pasted on red card; annotations in ink
House of Muhammad ‘Ali
Dar al-Kiswa started life as warshat al-kharanfash – a large factory established by Muhammad ‘Ali Pasha in 1817 in Cairo. 4000 young men from Cairo were assembled to work there as apprentices in a variety of crafts and trades. But by the 1880s, it had become a workshop dedicated to the production of the Meccan textiles. The workshop was closed down in the late 1990s.
At its heyday, up to a hundred weavers, artisans and embroiderers were known to have worked in Dar al-Kiswa. One section of the workshop, the qism al-zarkasha, was responsible for embroidering the textiles that were sent to Mecca every year. Many were members of the same family and often started work there as young boys, remaining until they retired. In the 1930s thre were at least 60 there, with an average age of about 65.
The photographs are of some of the employees working in the embroidery section at Dar al-Kiswa. It is not known when they were assembled, but it is likely to have been sometime around the 1940s–early 50s.
Nassar, N., “Dar al-Kiswa al-Sharifa. Administration and Production”, in Porter, V., and Saif, L. (eds), The Hajj: Collected Essays, London: British Museum, 2013: 175–83.
Nahla Nassar "The embroiderers of Dar al-Kiswa in Cairo" in Explore Islamic Art Collections. Museum With No Frontiers, 2021. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;EPM;uk;Mus22;39;en
Prepared by: Nahla Nassar
MWNF Working Number: UK2 39