(Pre-) Modern Middle East and North Africa

(Pre-) Modern Middle East and North Africa

Siwa is a large oasis in the Western Desert of Egypt, which has been occupied since at least the first millennium BC. Since the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries or earlier, the Swa or Ti-Swa people, a Berber group, have inhabited the oasis. Until the late twentieth century Siwa was one of the country’s most isolated settlements and over the centuries it developed a distinct culture.

Bridal trousers (srawelin khatem) form part of the distinctive outfit traditionally worn by brides in the Siwa oasis, Egypt. They are made of white or black cotton and very wide around the waist and hips. The lower part of each trouser leg are decorated with panels of embroidery. The embroidery yarns used to be floss silk, but by the late twentieth century a rayon imitation of pure silk, perlé cotton or cotton threads were used.

In the Siwa oasis, in the Western desert of Egypt, women used to wear two types of embroidered head and body coverings. The first type is a black bridal cover and is called a troket. The second is a large head and body covering worn by married women.

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. 

A sofra is a rectangular and often embroidered floor spread that was used as a table setting in traditional, urban Ottoman houses. They were spread on the floor. A sofra sometimes served as a table itself, or sometimes a cylindrical stand was placed on top of the sofra to accommodate a food tray (tepsi).

A sofra bezi is a circular, embroidered floor spread that was used as a table setting in traditional, urban Ottoman houses. They were spread on the floor. Early examples of these floor spreads were rectangular and made out of narrow, embroidered strips of cloth. These were called sofra.

Spontaneous embroidery is a term especially used for various types of local Egyptian embroidery that are influenced by the Wissa Wassef principles of design.

The Street of the Tentmakers is located in the Shari Khayyamiya (or Suq Al-Khayyamiya), Cairo, Egypt. It is famous for the production of appliqué panels, which were originally used to decorate tents and pavilions. The name Khayyamiya comes from the Arabic word khayma (‘tent’). The Street forms part of the district of Qasabat Ridwan.

Telli is a form of metal thread embroidery from Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. It uses thin strips of metal thread to make herringbone stitches, satin stitches and detached Roumanian stitches. The metal thread appears on both sides of the ground cloth. This style of work is directly linked with metal thread work from the former Ottoman Empire. This technique was used to decorate a range of garments, such as dresses and shawls.

A tepsi örtüsü is a relatively small, generally round, embroidered tray cloth used in many parts of the former Ottoman Empire. It may be compared to the much larger floor spreads, called sofra and sofra bezi.

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.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Jewish women of Tetouan, Morocco, were famous for the production of gold embroidery. Normally this embroidery took the form of stars or circles worked with gold thread, which were applied to a cloth ground material. These decorated textiles were often used for curtains and hangings in silk and velvet. Tetouan Jewish women sometimes wore velvet dresses decorated in the same manner.

Mohammad Ahmad bin Abd Alla (1844-1885) was a Sufi sheikh in Sudan who proclaimed himself the Mahdi in 1881. The rise of the Mahdi took place during a period of growing local resentment against the policies of the Ottoman-Egyptian rulers and the growing power of the British. Mohammad Ahmad used the messianic beliefs of the time to propagate a ‘purer’ Islamic state.

The Tuareg are an ethnic group who live in the Sahara Desert, North Africa. They call themselves Kel Tamasheq, Kel Tamajaq or Kel Tagelmust (‘People of the Veil’). In general, they are not known for their embroidery, although there are a few garments, especially worn by those who live in the south, that are decorated in this manner.

A tughra is a calligraphic cipher (signature) of an Ottoman sultan. At its height the Ottoman Empire covered a vast area that stretched from the Balkans to Anatolia and the Caspian Sea, and covered much of North Africa and continued along both sides of the Red Sea. The Ottoman court was based at Istanbul, Turkey.

Tulle-bi-telli is a form of metal thread embroidery, with that name particularly associated with Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. It uses individual knots made with lamé, and this technique in general is associated with many countries. In India, Pakistan, throughout the Gulf region and Saudi Arabia, the technique is usually known as badla. In Iran it is called khus-duzi. The term tulle-bi-telli (‘net with metal’) includes the French word tulle (‘net’).

The Textile Research Centre houses a Turkish postage stamp, dated 1994, with a representation of an embroidery used for a Paçalik dress (acc. no. TRC 2016.0290a). This dress was worn by the bride on the day after her wedding. Paçalik was also the name for the embroidery sewn onto a woman's underpants.

Wadi Dawan is a desert valley in central Yemen, in the Hadramaut Governorate. During the twentieth century, brides from the Wadi Dawan often wore a wide dress with very short sleeves, a square neck opening and a train. The majority of the decoration is on the back of the garment. The decoration generally consists of appliqué cloth, sequins, as well as metal thread couching and embroidery around the neck opening.

‘Wheels of cloth’ are long, narrow strips of handwoven cloth used to make Tuareg men and women’s clothing in Saharan Africa.

During the twentieth century, a major influence on Egyptian decorative needlework was the work of Habib Gorgi and his son-in-law, the architect Ramses Wissa Wassef. Both believed that children were (and are) endowed with creative powers and potential that should be encouraged. In 1951, Wissa Wassef established the Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Centre, near the Giza pyramids.

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