Monday, May 23, 2005

Making New Clothes

FabricMarket.JPG, originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
Last year when I was in New York I bought some very comfortable t-shirt fabric jogging pants at the Columbia Bookstore. Naturally, they were on the expensive side, but they were wonderfully comfortable, especially in the Egyptian summer, so when they began wearing out I took them and another favourite pair of pants to a tailor in Maadi to have them copied. I explained that they were working pants and I wanted them copied in dark coloured t-shirt material, I paid a deposit for them to buy the material and was told that the pants would be ready the next week.

Well, that was about a month ago. Ah, the timelessness of Egypt. Today I went to Said the tailor for about the fifth time this month and two pairs of pants were ready. They weren't the jogging pants that I really wanted and they weren't made of t-shirt material. Said and Maher, his son, had copied the other pants in another fabric that is more suitable for more formal occasions than feeding the chickens and exercising the horses. They will be a welcome addition to my wardrobe nonetheless.

The jogging pants had been totally forgotten and had to be dug out of a closet. Once we got them out, I explained once again that I wanted the pants copied in the same sort of material that they were made from originally. "But, Madame, that is very inexpensive material!" Yes, boys, it is but how expensive do chicken-feeding pants have to be, after all? We went through the same old I-live-on-a-farm routine that I so often have to do explaining that I'm no longer a city dweller. This time, hopefully, it sank in.

Maher assured me that he will go personally to the Wekelah to buy the fabric himself, so hopefully sometime in the next month I will have some local copies of some rather ridiculously expensive jogging pants.

The market that they will visit to purchase the material is one of Cairo's best bargain centers. Fabric that is 85 LE per metre in more upscale locations such as Maadi or Mohendessin costs about 45 LE a metre in the Wekelah. The stores elsewhere are bigger and usually airconditioned, while in the Wekelah they are tiny, cramped and open to the air. Just finding one's way around the narrow alleyways is a serious challenge. The day that I took the photo a friend of mine was in the area and although we could describe landmarks to each other, we never did exactly figure out where the other was.

The market is fascinating in its extraordinary diversity. There are stalls selling some of the sleaziest underwear imaginable, red chiffon nightgowns trimmed with feathers, sequined thongs, you name it. The patrons of the stalls are often women whose heads are covered with black scarves and sometimes they wear full Islamic regalia with their faces covered to the eyes. The mind boggles with the thought of what they wear underneath all of that!

Other stalls sell children's clothes or uphostery fabric or towels and sheet material. You can buy the cotton for your sheets and have them hemmed there in the market in one of the stalls where a man sits behind an ancient sewing machine making things up for people. One fellow I know there sells used scarves and if you dig through the piles there are some wonderful bargains to be had. Lovely silk scarves or sarongs for as little as LE 20 (about $3.25) that look like new.

Naturally in a place like this parking is an utter nightmare. I've found a yard in the area of the market where they sell used iron for fences and pipes where I can park for LE 5 for a few hours. The real price of parking, of course, is in fear as you try to maneuver a Jeep Cherokee in a space that is more suitable for a Mini Cooper and the tragectory for getting out includes at least 4 right angles to be taken in reverse. THEN, you have to make your way through the alleys to the main street. All in all, going there is a major expedition, but one that is usually well worth it. I actually know people who are addicted to the fabric souq and go at every opportunity....but most of them have drivers so they don't have to deal with half of the insanity. They must change their curtains about once a month.

1 comment:

Leila said...

Well, Maryanne, I've finally found something I can do that you can't! Sew, that is. I've been feeling rather inadequate when reading your posts...

When I lived in Egypt I had my boyfriend's tailor make up some linen pleated trousers for me - this was in the early 80s - the design was a little unusual, and I made a sketch because I knew basic pattern drafting; they must have been a success because boyfriend's kid sister immediately had two pairs made for herself.

Later when money got tighter and I needed summer clothes, I bought Burda magazine and whipped up some skirts on the sewing machine of a friend's mother. I can't remember where I bought the fabric but I'm pretty sure it was somewhere around Qasr el Nil downtown, in one of those department stores.

What I'll always regret is not having shoes made, but I was really on a limited, student's budget. I have these difficult sized feet, and I really wish I'd had some lovely shoes made for me. Oh well.

I do wish I had money and time to hop over to Giza to see you (from Oakland, CA). I would be very happy to whip up those jersey pants for you - several pair - just take me around visiting your neighbors in return. And I'd bargain in the souk for fabric - love to try out my Lebanese Arabic during a good haggle.