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Siwa Oasis Embroidery (Egypt)

Detail of the embroidery on a black headdress and white wedding dress from the Siwa oasis, showing the traditional Siwa colours and the mother-of-pearl buttons, 1970's. Detail of the embroidery on a black headdress and white wedding dress from the Siwa oasis, showing the traditional Siwa colours and the mother-of-pearl buttons, 1970's. Courtesy Textile Research Centre, Leiden, acc. no. TRC 1997.0275.

Siwa oasis embroidery is a distinctive form of decoration associated with the Siwa oasis, Egypt. Siwa is a major oasis (20 by 80 km) in the Western Desert of Egypt, which has been occupied since at least the first millennium BC. 

From the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Swa or Ti-Swa people, of Berber origins, inhabited the oasis. Until the late twentieth century Siwa was one of the country’s most isolated settlements and over the centuries developed a distinct culture.

Siwa hand embroidery is traditionally made and worn by women. Embroidery is used to decorate household items such as amulets, baskets, kohl containers, as well as clothing, especially the distinctive Siwa bridal outfit, which consists of a pair of trousers, a large T-shaped dress, footwear and a head covering. The trousers and dresses occur in both black and white forms. The embroidery is a mixture of stitching and applied decoration, notably with amulets, buttons of various kinds, especially those made of mother-of-pearl (tutintfukt buttons), and shell discs. The embroidery yarns used to be floss silk, but by the late twentieth century rayon, perlé cotton and cotton threads were widely available and used.

The traditional colours of Siwa embroidery and related decorative forms are black, dark green, orange, red and yellow, which are said to be the colours associated with the colours of ripening dates, the main cash crop of the Siwa Oasis.

Siwa embroidery uses a range of stitches and embroidery techniques, and these are often used in forms and combinations that are unique to the oasis. In particular, couching is used with various stitches, such as a blanket stitch worked over Roumanian stitch, or a couching thread held in place with a couched cross stitch (producing a form of laidwork).

In modern days, a new range of Siwa dress and embroidery has been developed by Siwa Creations.

See also: Siwa bridal dresses; Siwa bridal footwear; Siwa head and body coverings.

Sources:

  • ETHNOGRAPHIC MUSEUM (1986). Égypte, Oasis d’Amun-Siwa, Geneva: Musée d’Ethnographie.
  • MEHREZ, Shahira and Gillian VOGELSANG-EASTWOOD (2016). 'Embroidery from Egypt', in: Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood (ed.), Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World, London: Bloomsbury Publishers, pp. 264-293, esp. pp. 284-292.
  • VALE, Margaret Mary (2011). Sand and Silver: Jewellery, Costume and Life in the Siwa Oasis, York: York Publishing Services Ltd.

TRC online catalogue (retrieved 18 September 2016).

GVE

Last modified on Monday, 17 April 2017 12:38