Part I: Paducah is the land of the quilt

All right so we are home, back in Cairo, and I have finally had a decent cup of coffee not something you will find all that easily in North America.

Regardless of the lack of caffeine the recent trip to the States, and their northerly cousins Canada, was a great success on so many levels.

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We; Hosam, Tarek and I, arrived in Paducah late on the Monday night prior to the American Quilters Society Quilt Week Show and instantly realized the scale of this thing as quilts adorned all of the walls of Paducah Barkley Regional Airport. The only conversation being had by anybody in the airport was about quilts and over the coming days we would run into all of the people we had just flown in with from Chicago.

Paducah, Kentucky is a small US town with a population of approximately 30,000 people. It has its home coming queen in the likes of country singer Kelley Lovelace and an all-star quarterback in Corey Robinson, presently playing for the Troy University Trojans. However the one thing that makes Paducah, and everyone knows Paducah for, is quilts.

Over the space of one week Paducah’s population definitely doubles and may even come close to tripling in size. These people are mad about their quilts and if there was ever going to be somewhere to really prove the Tentmakers of Cairo as more than a novelty of speed stitching this was going to be the place.

Hosam and Tarek where instantly recognised as we checked into our hotel, in fact we had been spotted earlier in Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on the way in. Everyone we passed who knew the work of the Tentmakers of Cairo was excited to see Hosam and Tarek. Every one of them let us know that they would be at the show and that seeing their work was a high priority.

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The next day we made our way down to the show as the Tentmakers of Cairo pieces were being hung. Hosam and Tarek walked around and admired the work that now hung across four large walls and was the centerpiece of the room they were in. Two picnic benches ready for them to work on would soon be surrounded by thousands of visitors who had come to see for themselves the speed and intricacy of the Tentmakers of Cairo at work.

With time off in the afternoon Hosam, Tarek, Jenny Bowker and I got a chance to do some filming in the National Museum of Quilts. This turned out to be an amazing experience as I think it really came home to both Hosam and Tarek the quality and detail that other stitchers were able to achieve using textiles, needle and thread. There was however a lot of comment about the use of machine work that was not like theirs that is handmade. When they did find something that was hand stitched they were both in awe of the detail and skill.

A painted quilt by Hollis Chatelain took the prize as the best quilt with both men in awe of the work and detail, I am pretty sure Caryl Bryer Fallert Gentry, a queen among quilters and quite the star, came in second but I could not be certain of that.

The show itself was four days of non-stop people, questions and visiting. Hosam and Tarek tore through work at a great pace. Tarek in particular seemed to have become quite inspired by what he had seen in the quilt museum and started to redesign work that he was already a large part of the way through. Questions were repetitive however always delivered with interest and both Hosam and Tarek had no qualms answering them over and over again. There were a lot of shocked faces, wows and stares of disbelief. 

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The work on the walls sold like hot cakes and each morning pieces would have to be taken down and replaced with more work. Even pieces that Hosam and Tarek had only just placed the last stitch on where scoped up for a bargain price and shipped out the door.

On the second day of the show Randy Pace turned up from Texas with a huge Pharonic Tentmakers Piece which was hung in the room above the Tentmakers of Cairo, as space had become an issue where the men where. This piece looked old yet was still in good condition for a piece thought to be somewhere around 100 years old.

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Sheila Frampton-Cooper, a relatively new though successful quilter, spent a few hours back and forthing through the work of the Tentmakers of Cairo before deciding on the pieces she liked the most. By the end of the show Sheila had almost become a permanent fixture in the Tentmakers of Cairo exhibition often telling us that this was all she was really interested in seeing at the show, although I suspect there were plenty of other people and quilts that took her interest as well.

Sheila Frampton-Cooper, Jenny Bowker & Hosam EL Farouk Paducah 2013

A few more events and big surprises and then the show was over and it was pack up and time to say good bye. This time Hosam and Tarek would be flying home alone as I made my way to Toronto, Canada for another exciting week which would prove a lot of things to me about the film and how there is still so much more work to do. Maybe even more than I had expected.

Stay tuned for Part II: Toronto tells us how to make a film.