(Pre-) Modern Middle East and North Africa

(Pre-) Modern Middle East and North Africa

An Aba is a traditional, and generally a sleeveless, flowing cloak worn by men and women throughout the Arab world and neighbouring countries. When worn by women it may be draped over the head (for example, in Iraq) or worn from the shoulders (in Jordan). Men normally wear it draped over the shoulders.

Akhmim embroidery is a form of modern ‘naive’ embroidery associated with the city of Akhmim in Upper Egypt. Textiles, especially woven forms, have been produced at the city for thousands of years. This relationship has been used by various Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s) to build up local weaving projects, especially for women, developing new weave and embroidery styles and bringing Muslim and Christian communities together.

The coastal city of al-Hudaydah lies in the northern part of the Tihamah region, in western Yemen. Women in this area wear a distinctive, very wide dress (qamis), with atlas cloth decorating the long sleeves and lower hem, and with couched band work down the front.

Aleppo embroidery is a form of monochrome counted thread embroidery associated with the Aleppo region in Syria. During the first half of the twentieth century, many Arab girls made garments for their future husband, which were to be worn by the grooms during the wedding ceremonies. These garments were intended to show off the embroidery skills of the bride to her future husband and his family.

Azemmour embroidery originated from a small town along the Atlantic coast of Morocco, about 75 km southwest of Casablanca. Azemmour is an ancient port with connections to many Mediterranean countries. It was known for its counted thread work with a negative design.

The Bayt al-Fakih region of Yemen is known for a form of passementerie needlework using cotton bands. This form of decoration is associated with both daily and festive women's dresses. The town of Bayt al-Fakih is located along pilgrimage and trade routes across the Tihamah plain, about 50 km south of al-Hudaydah and 150 km southwest of the Yemeni capital of Sana`a.

Some groups of Berber women in Morocco wear a large covering called a tahruyt. The embroidered cloth is normally placed over the head and upper body and then one end is draped over the left shoulder.

Bethlehem couching is a dominant form of Bethlehem embroidery, and was particularly popular in the twentieth century for the panels on women’s dresses and jackets. It is characterised by various forms of cord couching, with thin cords in different colours and often including a metal thread of some kind, which are sewn down traditionally with silk, in sinuous and/or stylised floral patterns.

The British Museum in London houses a remarkable, decorated camel saddle cloth (acc. no. Af1947,15.4). It comes from Ethiopia and dates to the first half of the twentieth century. The ground cloth is 107 x 83 cm in size and is made from orange cotton with appliqué green leather strips.

Chefchaouen embroidery derives from a city with the same name, which is located in the Rif mountains of northern Morocco. Founded in 1471, the city soon became home to Jewish and Muslim exiles fleeing the Spanish Reconquista. The embroidery traditions of the various religious and ethnic groups all affected later Chefchaouen production.

Many embroidery designs in North Africa and the Middle East are passed down from one generation to another by copying older pieces of embroidery. However, it was not uncommon for girls and women in Morocco to decorate cloth with various forms of designs and stitches, and at first glance these pieces of decorated cloth seem comparable to European samplers.

The Textile Museum of Canada holds an embroidered curtain from Algeria. It dates to the nineteenth century and measures 188 x 50 cm. It is made of linen with purple-coloured silk embroidery. The embroidery was carried out on a wooden frame, using herringbone and satin stitches, and couching.

Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and lies just south of Turkey. It has a long tradition of decorative needlework, in particular redwork and whitework. For centuries the island has been part of an intensive maritime network that linked the whole of the Mediterranean world together.

Rabat is the modern capital of Morocco and is located along the Atlantic Ocean. It has long been known for its trade and the production of embroideries, and of embroidered door curtains (izar, pl. izur) in particular.

The Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin holds a silk and gold and silver thread embroidered woman's cape from what is now Ethiopia. It appears to be one of a number of comparable capes commissioned by the Ethiopian emperor, Tewodros II (c. 1818-1868), from the Adwa workshops, as part of his overtures to Queen Victoria for the modernisation of the country and defence against the Muslim neighbouring states.

The term tiraz originally comes from the Persian verb for embroidering (tirazidan, 'to embroider'). In Arabic it came to mean the embellishment of a piece of cloth or another material with a text of some kind.

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