In the 1950s, on Shandweel island in the deep south of Egypt, Um Alia hand-crafted traditional wedding clothes for her daughter and other girls in the village — a vital part of the wedding ceremony in that region. She would thread a tiny needle with silver and gold thread, weaving them through Tilly cloth into shapes and symbols representing the heritage of her forebears. She drew camels to indicate the wedding caravan, waves like the waters of the Nile, trees for rural village life, stars for the wedding ceremony's nights, and finally triangles for mountains and to protect the bride from envy. No girl could move to her husband's house without at least three Tilly dresses.
Years passed. Girls began to go to school and were exposed to modern fashions. Um Alia's handmade work went out of style; people were no longer interested in this tradition. Though mothers cannot forget their grandmothers' traditions, they also cannot change the mind of a new generation.
In the 1990s, Dr. Shahira Fawzy, an Egyptian researcher, visited Shandweel in search of Um Alia. Fortunately, she found her still alive. Together, Dr. Shahira and Um Alia established a small Tilly handicrafts workshop. Ten girls received training, and each girl would then go on to train another ten. Now, more than 1000 woman work in Tilly handicrafts from their homes and through a number NGOs in Shandweel village. The women of Shandweel have collectively revived the heritage of their grandmothers, a 19th century Upper Egyptian tradition.