Tutintfukt Buttons

Tutintfukt buttons on a Siwa oasis bridal dress. Tutintfukt buttons on a Siwa oasis bridal dress. Courtesy Textile Research Centre, Leiden, acc. no. TRC 2008.0490.

Tutintfukt (‘Eye of the sun’) buttons are made of mother-of-pearl. They are by tradition used to decorate the Siwa oasis bridal outfit, in the Western Desert of Egypt. In Siwa, mother-of-pearl is believed to be talismanic, because it reflects light and was thought to attract the sun’s energy, which is then transmitted to the wearer.

It is not known when Siwa women started to use these buttons on their garments, but they were common by the early twentieth century. By the mid-twentieth century, the mother-of-pearl forms started to be replaced with white and iridescent plastic versions, presumably because these were cheaper and easily available. It remained important, however, that the buttons were round and white or off-white in colour.

A feature of the Siwa oasis garments is the number of different ways in which the buttons are sewn onto the dresses. Most of the buttons have four holes, and at least eighteen different ways of sewing the buttons on garments have been identified. There does not appear to be a specific reason behind the use of these patterns, and it seems that the decorative effect is sufficient. In addition, a wider variety of effects is created by using differently coloured sewing threads and the addition of small, coloured sequins in the centre of the buttons. The use of buttons in this manner appears to be unique to the Siwa oasis, and it is not clear when or where this idea was developed.


  • ETHNOGRAPHIC MUSEUM (1986). Égypte Oasis d’Amun-Siwa, Geneva: Musée d’Ethnographie.
  • MEHREZ, Shahira and Gillian VOGELSANG-EASTWOOD (2016). 'Embroidery from Egypt,' in: Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood (ed.), Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World, London: Bloomsbury, pp. 284-286.
  • VALE, Margaret Mary (2011). Sand and Silver: Jewellery, Costume and Life in the Siwa Oasis, York: York Publishing Services Ltd.



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