Tetouan Embroidery (Morocco)

Example of Tetouan embroidery, 18th century. Example of Tetouan embroidery, 18th century. Courtesy AMBA Foundation.

Tetouan is the only open port of Morocco along the Mediterranean Sea. It lies a few km south of the Strait of Gibraltar and about 60 km from Tangier. The present city of Tetouan was founded in the early fourteenth century and it soon became a prosperous trading port. Tetouan embroidery is known for its distinctive character, with stylised flowers and geometric shapes in bright colours.

Older Tetouan embroideries were worked on an undyed, fine linen. Since the early twentieth centruy examples are worked on coloured silk, often in a bright yellow, gold or raspberry colour.

The patterns are drawn free-hand onto the cloth and are characterised by larger shapes being picked out in bold colours and smaller, secondary elements in softer shades. The colours used for the embroidery thread depend upon the colour of the ground, but they are always bright and include navy blue, royal blue, red, turquoise and white.

The motifs are worked using filling stitches, such as variations of brick stitch, darning stitch, running stitch and satin stitch. Sometimes a form of couching is used, in which long stitches are laid down and then caught down with smaller stitches. The latter is always in a brick arrangement. The outline (rechem) of each pattern block is defined by a dark coloured outline, usually a black or green worked in running stitch, stem stitch or sometimes a back stitch.

Tetouan embroidery is used for a variety of objects, including a small range of clothing and soft furnishings such as curtains, cushions, hangings and mirror covers. One of the few items of clothing that are embroidered are the sashes (tikka) used as a draw band for women’s trousers (shalwar) although, not so surprisingly, only the ends of the tikka that are visible are decorated. Another use for embroidery was to embellish the kettafiya, a small rectangle of material used as a shoulder cloth. These were used in the first half of the twentieth century by young girls on their marriage day to cover their shoulders while their hair was being dressed and then to protect their hair when it was ready. The kettafiyas were embroidered with very fine gold or a little coloured silk on a ground of natural or white silk or cotton.

Tetouan curtains (tenchifa) are made out of cotton or linen and along their lower edges there is a band of drawn thread work done in natural ivory or white silk, which separates the fringe from the border surrounding the cloth above. More recent pieces use a strip of brocade instead of the drawn-thread band.

Another use of embroidery is for hangings (ajar), intended to be hung horizontally, decorating the bed used for weddings and other family occasions. An uniquely Tetouan form of embroidery are mirror covers (also called tenchifa). They are used to hide the long mirrors that are in the marriage bedroom during the honeymoon period. Tenchifa are about 50 cm wide and up to 550 cm long. The older examples are embroidered on muslins in soft colours.

See also: Tetouan gold 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. 205-206.


Last modified on Thursday, 19 January 2017 16:23