When Sevinch first arrived in Cairo some 16 years ago, she had never even heard of passementerie. Accompanying her husband on a career posting however, she wasted no time in hunting through the alleys and hidden staircases of the Khan el Khalili bazaar for treasures, and always with an eye to creating a business opportunity.
And one day she came home with a curtain tieback, enthralled. “Isn’t this the most delicious thing you have ever seen in your entire life?” she exclaimed. Actually it wasn’t. It was a moth-eaten, appallingly made tassel such as are made in haste in vast quantities in single-loom workshops around Old Cairo, probably destined to hang in the cab of a long‐distance truck driver. Yet to Sevinch, this was the coup de foudre, a thunderbolt. For the next 16 years she devoted her life to mastering the product, and today passementerie from Sevinch’s workshops graces museums and palaces, and private homes all over the world. For years she hunted for inspiration, historical and otherwise, she watched and noted everything as it was made and mastered the detail and the complexity of a manufacture of which she had not known the existence a scant few years earlier.
In 1993, she flew to New York and with the aid only of the Yellow Pages and a 45 kilo bag of samples, cold-called top designers and show-rooms, and successfully canvassed business with the unique selling technique of huge brown eyes and “isn’t this just the most delicious thing you have seen in your entire life?”
Walking through the gates of Sevinch’s workshop is like stepping into a time machine. The tools, modes and techniques are from 200 years ago. The Master Dyer operates in his own area in a leafy and flower-filled courtyard, creating colours to order in small vats and cauldrons. Off the cloisters are craftsmen in their rooms, hand-turning and carving wooden decorative pieces, the cable makers winding and spinning fancy lines, cords and ropes, small groups clustered around wooden tables making meticulously tight and fine flowers, jasmines and other elements to hang from the passementerie. In a long room sit the pompom and tasselled fringe makers, and then the tieback makers – the final assemblers of all the finery that has gone before.
On the upper floor is the splendid sight of 12 hand-looms standing in a rank. The weavers – the princes of the workshop, artists and mathe-maticians at the same time – sway and weave in what seems almost a sufi trance, the counter weights of the heddles jingling to the rhythm of the weave. Some weavers are able to operate up to 30 treadles, and 12 hand-shuttles which are not merely thrown in a repetitive cadence across the warp, but are manipulated and knotted into complex forms before re-joining the ground. Such a level of skill is rarely found in today’s mechanized world.
Everything that Sevinch makes is made by hand. We start from basic bulk raw materials; various grades of cotton, artificial silk, linen, wool, and polyester, and planks of timber – mostly beech and pine – from which to carve intricate wooden pieces. Sheets of plastic are purchased in bulk, then slit into 1mm to 5mm strips which are then coated in yarns and hand-worked to make components for the petals of flowers. Carton sheets are cut by hand to make “motifs de remplissage”.
Sevinch is a custom producer. She carries no sample books, or stock lines. Everything is made to order and specific to a fabric or a project. She will make her existing model range in the client’s own colours, or she will modify existing models, or she will offer completely new designs.
In recent years, and notably with the benefit of a long-term relationship with John Buscemi in Boston, she has been commissioned by a number of US museums and historical preservation organizations, to reproduce period passementerie. The most challenging project she can remember was when she was presented with a number of monochrome photographs of the rooms of the Providence State House dating from around 1912, and asked to reproduce the passementerie fuzzily depicted therein. For the Baltimore Estate in North Carolina, she reproduced a period piece which involved over 20,000 jasmines and other embellishments hung on a mere 22 yards of fringe. The project took 6 months to complete.
Sevinch’s latest triumph, brought about by John Buscemi of Belfry Historic Consultants, was the making of an important quantity of fringe and tassels for the refurbishment of an 18th century French state bed at one of the most prestigious museums in New York city.
Sevinch has extremely liberal terms of trade. She makes no surcharges for design modifications or nomination of additional colours. There are no minimum order stipulations, and she has been known to fill orders of as little as 2 yards of trim. Whereas a museum can expect faithful historical reproduction, a designer or home owner can expect genuine exclusivity in that the passementerie hanging in their homes was made for them and for them alone.
Despite the increasing recognition that Sevinch is getting from within the design industry and elsewhere, she is bafflingly humble: “…it’s still not good enough. The journey continues.”