Meknes Embroidery (Morocco)

Example of Meknes embroidery, Morocco. Example of Meknes embroidery, Morocco.

Meknes is a city in northern Morocco, some 130 km east of the capital Rabat and 60 km west of Fes. It is named after a Berber tribe called the Meknassis. The city appears to have been founded in the tenth century AD. In the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, Meknes was the capital of Morocco, before the centre of the country was relocated to Marrakesh.

Meknes was known for the production of gold embroidery, silk embroidery, and in particular, embroidery on leather. It would seem, however, that Meknes lost much of its silk embroidery traditions by the early twentieth century. According to the French official, Prosper Ricard, in about 1916 there was a crisis among the embroiderers in the city as a result of Fes style embroidery being introduced throughout the country.

Based on surviving eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth century examples, various writers have concluded that traditional Meknes silk embroidery was technically and iconographically similar to that of Salé and Fes, with a blend of Berber elements. Meknes embroidery is non-reversible and at first glance appears to be counted thread work. However, it was worked on an extremely fine even weave ground material, usually made of cream coloured muslin. This material was too fine for counted thread work. In addition, the cloth was often decorated with a woven design of stripes, spots or little coloured squares. The woven design was used to provide a guide line for the embroidery. The embroidery was carried out in thick, floss silkin a wide variety of colours, notably black, brown, green, red, yellow, and occasionally blue.

A range of straight and flat stitches was used in Meknes, including brick stitch, darning stitch, diagonal stitch and double running stitchworked in diagonals, squares or other variations. Often the ground was embroidered with isolated dots or small lozenges, which sometimes interfered with the woven designs of the ground material. Sometimes dyed silk tassels were added to the edges of a piece. This form of embroidery was used for long, rectangular bathing shawls that were used to tie up the hair after a visit to the bathhouse (hammam).

The embroidered decoration was worked in a form of couching, and with running stitch, double running stitch, satin stitch and stem stitch and was evenly covered with cruciforms, dots or squares often in blues, reds, pinks and yellows. The shawls had embroidered borders along the ends and selvedges. Meknes embroidery was also used for a variety of soft-furnishings. For example, it was used for the bottom of fine muslin curtains hung in the openings of the women’s quarters to keep out the heat and protect the inhabitants from inquisitive glances. In addition, a common item within a house was a mendil or large squarish cloth with an over-all design based on squares and triangles, which was flanked by two heavy borders. These cloths were used as covers for chests, tables, and the like.

See also: Moroccan leather embroidery.


  • DENAMUR, Isabelle (2003). Moroccan Textile Embroidery, Paris: Flammarion.
  • STONE, Caroline (1985). The Embroideries of North Africa, London and New York: Longman.
  • VIVIER, Marie-France (1991). Broderies Marocaines, Paris: Bibliotheque Nationale de France.
  • VOGELSANG-EASTWOOD, Gillian and Caroline STONE (2016). 'Embroidery from Morocco', in: Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood (ed.), Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World, London: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 188-209, esp. pp. 200-201.

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 17 June 2017).


Last modified on Monday, 17 April 2017 18:20
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