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On Sunday, 22 March 2020, Gillian Vogelsang wrote:

A recent addition to the TRC Collection is a modern button sample (TRC 2020.0485), a simple object, but one with an interesting story behind it. It was actually made by me as part of the research carried out some years ago for a chapter about Egyptian regional embroidery that was published in the Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World (Bloomsbury 2016).

A button sample based on a Siwa tradition (TRC 2020.0485).A button sample based on a Siwa tradition (TRC 2020.0485).

The sample is based on the way four-holed buttons are sewn onto dresses worn by women in the Egyptian oasis of Siwa, in the far west of country. The dresses come in white (ashera nauak) and black (ashera hawak azdhaf) and are first worn by a young women at her wedding. The dresses are then worn on special occasions, such as family and religious events. More details about these dresses can be found here.


A white embroidered dress with applied buttons (ashera nauak; TRC 2017.2138).A white embroidered dress with applied buttons (ashera nauak; TRC 2017.2138).Siwa wedding dresses are normally heavily decorated down the front panel with orange, red, yellow, green and black embroidery. In addition these dresses are embellished with coins, shells, and white buttons that are said to reflect the sun’s rays and to be talismans that attract good fortune (as opposed to an amulet that deflects evil).

Siwa women deliberately use the holes in the buttons to create a range of geometric patterns. So far we have identified eighteen different methods of sewing down the buttons onto the ground material. In addition, by changing the colour of the sewing thread, there are more possibilities for creating a decorative effect.

Detail from the yoke of a black Siwa dress (ashera hawak azdhaf; TRC 2008.0490).Detail from the yoke of a black Siwa dress (ashera hawak azdhaf; TRC 2008.0490).So why pay attention to these buttons – I have been looking at my own garments just recently (thanks to being at home due to the present crisis) and thinking how boring it is that every button is sewn on in exactly the same mechanical manner! I am going to re-sew some buttons and have a bit of fun….

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