Embroidered tiraz from Egypt, c. 900 AD. Embroidered tiraz from Egypt, c. 900 AD. Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London, acc. no. 257-1889.

Tiraz is a term related to a medieval Middle Eastern textile that carries an inscription of some kind. The term tiraz probably derives from a Persian word for embroidery (compare tarazidan, 'to embroider'). The term tiraz is in particular used to indicate an embroidered, woven, painted, printed, or applied text on a piece of textile.

Some modern scholars narrowly define a tiraz as a text that includes the name of the local ruler. Other scholars are not as strict, and as long as the text is executed in a technique differing from that of the ground material, it is regarded as a tiraz form. In addition some writers say the term tiraz can refer to the workshops (private/royal or commercial factories) where tiraz textiles were made, or to the social and political circumstances under which the textiles were commissioned, as well as to the whole process in which the textiles or garments were distributed as part of royal patronage.

Based on extant examples and contemporary written accounts, it would appear that this type of cloth was produced in various types and sizes of workshops all over the medieval Arab and Islamic world, including Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Sicily and Yemen, as well as Andalusia (Muslim Spain). At first it was used by the royal court and the upper classes and later by a wider range of social groups. Tiraz reflects how one aspect of material culture, in this case a form of embroidered or woven textile, spread throughout the Arab world and came to form a uniting element in its cultural and economic history.

Most studies that discuss tiraz concentrate on the woven texts, but there is a significant number of embroidered examples. In fact, most of the earliest extant examples of tiraz are embroidered. A good example of an early embroidered tiraz has the name of the Umayyad caliph, Marwan, worked into it (the so-called Marwan tiraz). By the Abbasid period (mid-eighth century onwards), the tiraz system was starting to flourish. The minting of coins and the production of tiraz cloth, both bearing the name of the caliph, became symbolically and economically significant. Control of the tiraz workshops soon became one of the most important administrative responsibilities in the government, together with that of the mints, the post and taxation.

By the Fatimid period in Egypt (mid-tenth century onwards), it was not merely a court institution, but a significant source of revenue for the Fatimid caliphs. During the Egyptian Mamluk Sultanate (AD 1250-1517), the tiraz system gradually broke down and eventually vanished. The production of embroidered tiraz, however, survived to the beginning of the twenty-first century in the form of large scale embroidered and appliqué wall hangings, panels and tents, which are often accompanied with (religious) texts. These tiraz forms are made, among others, in the famous ‘Street of the Tent Makers,’ (Shari Khayyamiya) in Cairo, Egypt.

See also: embroidered tiraz from Andalusia


  • BLAIR, Sheila (1997). ‘Inscriptions on medieval Islamic textiles,' in: Anon, Islamische Textilkunst des Mittelalters: Aktuelle Probleme, Riggisberg: Abegg-Stiftung, pp. 95-104.
  • DEPPE, Margaret A. (2010). ‘Tiraz: Textiles and dress with inscriptions in Central and Southwest Asia,' Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion, Oxford: Berg Publishers, vol. 5, pp. 104-112.
  • GOLOMBEK, Lisa and Veronika GERVERS (1977). ‘Tiraz fabrics in the Royal Ontario Museum,' in: Veronika Gervers (ed.), Studies in Textile History, Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum.
  • KÜHNEL, Ernst and Louisa BELLINGER (1953). Catalogue of Dated Tiraz Fabrics, Washington: Textile Museum.
  • SERJEANT, Robert B. (1972). Islamic Textiles: Material for a History up to the Mongol Conquest, Beirut: Librairie du Liban.
  • STILLMAN, Yedida (2000). Arab Dress: A Short History from the Dawn of Islam to Modern Times, Leiden: Brill.
  • VOGELSANG-EASTWOOD, Gillian (2016). 'Embroidered tiraz,' in: Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood (ed.), Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World, London: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 140-150.

V&A online catalogue (retrieved 17 June 2016).


Last modified on Monday, 03 October 2016 18:16