(Pre-) Modern Middle East and North Africa

(Pre-) Modern Middle East and North Africa

A feature of nineteenth and early twentieth century embroidery in North Africa was the influence of various Christian missionaries from Europe and America. In particular Catholic missionaries were active in North Africa, notably in French colonised Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, and in the Italian colony of Libya.

The production of gold embroidery in Morocco is not unique to Fes, but the city is particularly famous for it. In the 1930's the work of gold thread embroiderers in Fes was documented by the French writer, Anne-Marie Goichon, and much of what she wrote in 1939 with respect to techniques still applies to the latter half of the twentieth century.

Fes style embroidery is a form of double running stitch decoration based on a form of embroidery from Fes, Morocco. It was introduced throughout Morocco by the French in order to revive Moroccan arts and crafts during the First World War (1914-1918).

The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, houses a fragment of multi-coloured, embroidered yellow silk that dates to c. 1500 and probably derives from the Ottoman empire (and not from Iran, as suggested in the Rijksmuseum catalogue). The fragment measures 34 x 33 cm.

Ghabani embroidery is a form of chain stitch work from Syria, which is carried out with a hook rather than a needle. It probably derives from the Indian ari embroiderytradition. The word ghabani can be used for both this form of embroidery and for the end product decorated with this type of embroidery.

The Textile Research Centre in Leiden has a pair of girl's slippers from Morocco. Localled called babouch, they measure 18 x 9 cm. They are made of leather and hand embroidered with cotton.

The Gnawa are an ethnic minority in Morocco, whose ancestors can be traced back to slaves that were moved from sub-Saharan Africa, notably Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal. The outfits worn by many Gnawa musicians in Morocco include belts and bandoleers decorated with applied work with cowrie shells. In addition, some wear a cap decorated with a long tassel, some embroidery and again cowry shells.

A gognots is the name for an apron worn by (Western) Armenian women. It used to be an indispensable part of their outfit, and was decorated with needlework or woven forms of ornamentation, and often worn together with a card-woven or metal band or a narrow, knitted belt, generally with an embroidered text (for instance "for good health").

Hiti (hiti, hayti, from the Arabic hayt, ‘a wall’) is a form of wall hanging found in Morocco and sometimes in other parts of North Africa. Basically, a hiti is a long strip of material, about 15 m long and roughly 1.5 m wide, which is used to decorate the walls behind the divans that line meeting halls (majlis) on ceremonial occasions, especially weddings.

The Jebel Haraz region of Yemen is known for its indigo dyed dresses with applied and embroidered decoration. Jebel Haraz is a mountainous area that lies between the Tihamah coastal plain and Sana’a, the capital of Yemen.

The Jebel Sabir region just south of Ta'izz, in southwestern Yemen, is known for its heavily embroidered festive dresses worked predominantly in white cotton. Those worn for special occasions, notably weddings, tend to be narrow with wide sleeves. The neck opening is wide and rounded. The embroidery is normally concentrated on the sleeves, around the neck opening, at the front panel and around the whole of the skirt section.

Kerdasa embroidery is associated with the town of Kerdasa, now a suburb of Cairo, Egypt. For centuries, Kerdasa was known for the production, by men, of woven textiles, which were traded along the east-west routes from Egypt to Libya, often via the Siwa oasis.

Khawlan lies between Amran and Hajja, to the northwest of Sana`a, the capital of Yemen. Local women wear a daily and a festive version of an embroidered dress. Until the 1960's, both the daily dress and the festive examples had broad sleeves and were made from indigo dyed cotton cloth. By the end of the twentieth century, the sleeves on festive dresses had become much narrower and were often made of dark blue or black cotton material.

The kiswa al-kabira is an elaborate outfit worn until the mid-twentieth century by wealthier (Sephardic) Jewish women in the Maghreb (Northwest Africa). The term kiswa al-kabira means ‘great dress.’ The outfit was decorated with gold braids and gold thread embroidery. The outfit appears to have originated in Andalusia, where it was called the traje de berberisca.

Ksour es-Saf (Ksour Essef) lies close to El Djem in southern Tunisia. The town is known for its small head shawls (ta’jira). These shawls are traditionally embroidered by men.

Leonardo da Vinci is the name for a particular design used for Lefkara lace from the island of Cyprus. The design is locally called potamos.

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam recently acquired an embroidered letter pouch (acc. no. NG-2011-25) that belonged to the Dutch ambassador to Istanbul (Constantinople), Cornelis Calkoen (1696-1764).

The so-called Mahdi tunics (jibba), decorated wih appliqué, were worn by the followers of Mohammad Ahmad bin Abd Alla (1844-1885). He was a Sufi sheikh from the Sudan who in 1881 proclaimed himself the Mahdi (messianic redeemer of the Islamic faith). This took place at a time of growing local resentment against the policies of the Ottoman-Egyptian rulers and the growing power of the British.

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.

Hand-woven, metal thread braids are traditionally produced by women in Oman. These braids are applied to both women and girls’ garments, especially their tunics and trousers. The various regions of Oman use different types of braids. The braids are hand woven on a cushion comparable to the lace cushions used for making Honiton bobbin lace.

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