At the beginning of the twenty-first century, various types of patterns were being used to decorate appliqué panels. The main forms are geometric or Islamic, calligraphic, and Pharaonic, as well as folklore and daily life.
Geometric or Islamic: Traditional geometric designs are used for locally used tents and so forth. These are regarded by many as the traditional form and are the style most commonly copied on printed designs. It is likely that the designs for the geometric appliqués derived from the marble inlay patterns to be found on the walls and floors of Cairo’s medieval mosques.
Calligraphic: A few of the more skilled craftsmen make appliqués based on traditional Islamic texts, especially those from the Koran. It is likely that these large panels are made for wall hangings decorating mosques or public buildings, as well as flags and banners. Some of these texts are in an Arabic form (often copying tile designs), others are based on Ottoman Turkish patterns.
Pharaonic: It would appear that since the late nineteenth century pictorial appliqués were made in the Street. These generally include scenes from ancient Egyptian tomb and temple reliefs, modified versions of ancient hieroglyphs or portrait busts, such as that of Nefertiti, the original of which is now in the Egyptian Museum, Berlin. In addition, some craftsmen make designs depicting scenes of daily life in ancient Egypt, notably farmers, hunters and animals. The production of this style of design is closely related to the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, which linked the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, and the development of mass tourism (mostly from Europe and North America), in the late nineteenth century. Early twentieth century postcards bear scenes from various suqs in Cairo, including men and boys at work producing appliqués.
At the end of the twentieth century, finely worked panels with fishes, birds with sometimes over a hundred birds on one panel and butterflies have become more widely available. These panels were originally influenced by Pharaonic tomb paintings, but have gradually become more ‘independent’ forms.
Another style that was added to the Street repertoire at the end of the twentieth century was that of the lotus. This is a geometric pattern based on stylised lotus flowers. Due to the intricate nature of the design, these panels tend to be worked in a much finer cotton material than the geometric panels intended for use for tents or as wall hangings.
Egyptian folklore and daily life: Some craftsmen make designs depicting daily life in ‘modern’ Egypt, notably with agricultural scenes, street scenes, village life, animals or ships on the Nile. This style of design has become fashionable, since the work of the Wissa Wassef school in the 1950s and 1960s popularised flat weave (tapestry) floor and wall coverings depicting scenes of daily life.
The Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center was set up in 1951 in Cairo by Ramses Wissa Wassef (1911-1974), an architect. He set up the school with the aim of teaching children design, art and tapestry making as a means for them to express their creativity and when older, to earn a living. The Wissa Wassef school was a great success and since then there have been many copies of this style and approach to design and art, including embroidery.
In addition, by the end of the twentieth century, subjects such as Goha (a fool with a unique form of wisdom, who appears in various forms of Egyptian folk literature since the eighth century; see illustration), Nubian musicians playing various instruments, as well as whirling dervishes, have also become themes on appliqué panels.