Did you know the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt dyed cloth by hand? And did you know that one of the few remaining shops in Egypt still uses that method? Amazing, right? And it’s all thanks to the passion of an old man named Salama Salem living in Al-Darb al-Ahmar, Cairo, Egypt.
Salem starts his day at 4:30 in the morning. He first separates bunches of white thread – which honestly look like garlands of bundled noodles – into thick and thin threads.
Then his sons come into the workshop and get the dye bath – known as vat – ready. Vat is a huge tub made to hold liquid. In this bath goes piping hot water and different dyes. The hotter the water, the brighter the thread color. Red, blue, pink, yellow, green, purple – you’d go crazy seeing the beautiful colored yarn in his workshop!
Then the white bundles of noodles – threads – are dipped into the vat with the help of wooden sticks. It’s the same way you’d put veggies on the grill for the barbeque. The white thread bundles are flipped to ensure even coloration on each side, just the way you flip veggies on the grill to uniformly cook them.
Once the threads have taken on their new color, they’re removed from the vat and put into a spinning machine to dry a bit. Then the thread bundles are hung on the roof of the workshop to fully dry for about two hours.
The colored, fluffy threads are then packaged in see-through bags and sent to the market for sale.
Salem dyed threads are used to make army uniforms and other garments. They’re even shipped to the USA, Israel, Syria, and Lebanon. He’s been running this dye house for 45 years now!
Industrialized textiles and recently, Covid-19, have slowed down business for hand dyeing. However, Salem is determined to keep it alive. He doesn’t want this art passed on from the Pharaohs to die. Neither do we.