What My Time in Egypt Taught Me About Craftsmanship

Last week I shared with you how much I love to craft. It’s always been a part of who I am. So it’s no wonder I fell in love with the markets of Egypt during my trip a few months ago.

Egypt isn’t just the land of pyramids. It’s a country with a long history of making everything by hand (think Egyptian cotton scarves and copper Ramadan lanterns). They pride themselves on their precision and intricate detailing – after all that’s exactly what it took to build the pyramids in the first place!

As I wandered Khan el-Khalili, the largest and oldest market in Africa, I was in awe of the beautiful jewelry, lanterns, copper goods, and architecture. All made by hand by Egyptians. I asked our guide about the wares, wondering how much was just cheap tchotchkes from China made to rip off tourists. He explained that the tradition of hand making goods is an important part of Egyptian culture and 90% of the goods sold were made right there in Egypt. The rest came from other parts of Africa, but the key was that everything is made by hand.

There are museums dedicated to every type of craft and schools that still teach the ancient ways of making copper goods. There are shops where you can get a lesson on how they make papyrus and have a piece custom painted while you wait or see how alabaster is hand carved into beautiful sculptures.

Beyond the markets of Cairo, I saw temple after temple adorned with painstakingly carved hieroglyphs documenting the ancient way of life. When you look up at the ceilings, you see the paint is still in tact, thousands of years later. As a crafter and designer I was so moved – someone’s hands made these paintings and we can still see them today.

What I was left with at the end of two weeks was a sense of pride in being a maker and a determination to always keep improving. When people buy my goods, that money goes directly back into my community. Shopping locally, at shops that make their own goods, helps build a sense of community and helps your area thrive. Don’t just wait for Shop Small Saturday to check out your local stores – go now!

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