Threads of Hope (ToH) is an embroidery school in Cairo founded by Malaika, created to provide Egyptian and refugee women free tuition in the art of needlework. ToH and Malaika are proud to have partnered with Soane Britain on a small collection to mark their 25th anniversary. The designs are inspired by Soane Britain’s new ‘Egyptomania’ collection which draws on the richness of one of the world’s most ancient cultures. Each piece has been carefully chosen to showcase the skills of the ToH makers in hand-embroidery and appliqué, and include cushion covers, bedspreads, pillowcases and napkins. All profits from this partnership will be chanelled back into supporting the women of ToH.
To see the pieces up close, head to Soane Britain's showroom in London.
We sat down with Lulu Lytle, the co-founder and director of Soane Britain, to hear more.
Tell us about how your love for Egypt started.
It was in the Ashmolean Museum that I first saw Pharaonic, Ptolemaic and Coptic objects and was immediately fascinated by the Egyptians and their extraordinarily long and unbroken history. A trip to Egypt when I was 16, travelling slowly down the Nile, waking at 4.30 each morning to visit temples and tombs, confirmed my desire to study Egyptology, and I was lucky enough to be taught by the brilliant Professor Harry Smith at UCL.
Soane is known for championing British craftmanship, what is it that you like about crafts?
From my discussions with Goya and Cruz it is clear that we all share a deep respect for craft skills which are a living connection with our past. Makers and restorers don’t get the same attention as historic buildings but I see the 2 as interdependent - we need these great skills to preserve buildings and their contents and so I believe they both need protecting, not just here in the UK but of course in Egypt and throughout the world. This has been demonstrated recently as we have witnessed the restorations of buildings such as Notre Dame and Windsor Castle in Europe and The Historic Cairo restoration project in Egypt. At Soane our focus is very much on the relationship between design and craftsmanship, with our designs evolving through constant collaboration between workshops and the Soane production team. Considering function and appropriateness of materials at all times is only possible if we are in constant communication.
What Egyptian elements were used as inspiration for your Egyptomania collection?
Representations of nature dominate the lexicon of Egyptian decorative motifs and are evident in most of Soane’s Egyptomania designs, as are architectural elements from many periods of Egyptian history from the Old Kingdom to the Ottoman period. The colours of one of my late 19th century Egyptian tent panels are seen throught the collection. This panel also inspired Rumi, a small geometric print designed in collaboration with the geometer and artist Yasmin Hayat, whose deep understanding of Islamic art informs her work. This design came from the border pattern which has a leaf-like motif known as a Rumi, found all over the Islamic world. The Hieroglyph for water inspired our large scaled Elephantine weave whilst Filigree Flower is a rather romantic print, recalling the mood and imagery of New Kingdom Egyptian tomb paintings. Its immediate inspiration was an 18th-century Ottoman sash embroidered with gilt thread and an unusual combination of rich colours, faithfully replicated in one of our 2 colourways. The ubiquitous date palm cultivated in Egypt for millennia for food and building materials, has always been my favourite tree and our new Leopard Palm is a nod to this, having been on the drawing board for well over a decade! It also inspired our new Palm Wall Light cast in plaster. Furniture designs in this collection are drawn from elements seen in New Kingdom tomb furniture as well as from early architectural motifs.
How would you describe your collaboration with Threads of Hope?
It has been a real education to collaborate with Threads of Hope, albeit remotely, working with Goya and Cruz and Malaika Linens. My colleagues and I feel lucky to have had the chance to learn from them and to have had our eyes opened to the extraordinary skills of the women who practice the very different techniques of hand embroidery, khayamiya and corded work, all of which I marvel at. Sadly Covid prevented us from shooting our whole Egyptomania collection on the Nile as we had initially hoped but I cannot wait to be in Cairo to see their workshops soon.
Do you have a favourite product from our collaboration?
The Filigree Flower napkins are very beautiful with their fine embroidered botanical motifs but I think it would have to be the Rumi throw. I was astonished when I fist saw it and Goya explained the making techniques. The hand corded embroidery requires exceptional skill.