Chefchaouen Embroidery (Morocco)

Example of Chefchaouen embroidery, style 3. Morocco, c. 1800. Example of Chefchaouen embroidery, style 3. Morocco, c. 1800. Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, acc. no. 1970.272.

Chefchaouen embroidery derives from a city with the same name, which is located in the Rif mountains of northern Morocco. Founded in 1471, the city soon became home to Jewish and Muslim exiles fleeing the Spanish Reconquista. The embroidery traditions of the various religious and ethnic groups all affected later Chefchaouen production.

Most surviving examples of Chefchaouen embroidery date to the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries and were probably used for items such as cushions, curtains, wall hangings (arid), and covers for boxes and chests. There are three main styles of Chefchaouen embroidery:

Chefchaouen style 1: earlier examples of this style used a thick, undyed or bleached, even-weave linen, while later examples used a comparable, cotton cloth. The embroidery was carried out using a heavy floss silk in a bouclé stitch. The stitch was worked with a hook rather than a needle. The older examples were monochrome or bichrome using only bouclé stitch. More recent examples also use a plait stitch. The designs associated with this form of Chefchaouen embroidery are a dense, vertically organised pattern that includes various geometric elements, highly stylised plant and floral elements, as well as branching geometric forms. The designs consist of three main elements: (A) the central element, which is made up of a single, large geometric form, such as a square or a star; (B) two smaller geometric forms, such as circles, rectangles, squares or stars, which flank the central motif, and (C) two mirrored rectangular panels, with geometric (squares and triangles) and floral (flowers and branches) decoration. These interlacing and connecting patterns are similar to those found in Arabic mosaics, in manuscript illustrations, as well as in metal and wood work.

Chefchaouen style 2: this form is based on a central (usually square) pattern flanked by two broader bands mirroring the central motif. The motifs are usually worked on an even-weave linen or, later, a cotton material. The embroidery is based on small squares worked in a herringbone stitch and plait stitch in the main designs, with the motifs around the outside edge worked in a double running stitch. The main colours are brick red, purple, yellow and off white.

Chefchaouen style 3: this form of embroidery is believed to have originated in Andalusia. It was used for wall hangings and consists of large, alternating motifs that are repeated in slightly different colours and internal designs. The latter are normally of intricate trellis work patterns and interlacing knots. The embroidery is worked on an even-weave linen ground using multi-coloured floss silk. The most widely used colours are black, blue, green, brick red and yellow. The white areas are created by not embroidering a particular area, so that the white ground material shows through, rather than using a white silk thread. Much of this embroidery is worked in lines of tent stitch.

It seems that by the early to mid-twentieth century Chefchaouen embroidery was no longer being produced. There have been attempts to revive this type of embroidery, but so far there seems to have been little success.


  • DENAMUR, Isabelle (2003). Moroccan Textile Embroidery, Paris: Flammarion.
  • STONE, Caroline (1985). The Embroideries of North Africa, London and New York: Longman.
  • VIVIER, Marie-France (1991). Broderies Marocaines, Paris: Bibliotheque Nationale de France
  • VOGELSANG-EASTWOOD, Gillian and Caroline STONE (2016). 'Embroidery from Morocco,' in: Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood (ed.), Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World, Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 188-209, esp. pp. 191-193.

Metropolitan Museum of Art online catalogue (retrieved 17 June 2016).


Last modified on Monday, 06 March 2017 11:59