Cyprian Embroidery

Embroidered belt, late 18th - early 19th centuries, Cyprus. Embroidered belt, late 18th - early 19th centuries, Cyprus. Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London, acc. no. 1538 to B-1888.

Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and lies just south of Turkey. It has a long tradition of decorative needlework, in particular redwork and whitework. For centuries the island has been part of an intensive maritime network that linked the whole of the Mediterranean world together.

Over the centuries Cyprus has been ruled by various groups, including the British, Byzantines, Italians and Ottoman Turks. Since 1974 the island has been virtually divided in half. The northern half is now a separate Turkish entity, while the southern half is Greek dominated.

Not surprisingly the island has absorbed, over the ages, many cultural, political and religious, as well as artistic influences. Traditionally, embroidery on Cyprus was used to decorate a range of clothing, notably women’s chemises and headscarves, as well as household textiles used for embellishing the marital bed, such as sheets, as well as for towels.

By the seventeenth century there were various types of embroidery being produced on the island, but the two main types of embroidery were, firstly, a form of redwork (Cyprian redwork) using a version of cross stitch. This form is sometimes associated with the region around the village of Pafos (also written Paphos) and on other occasions with Lefkara.

The second type is a form of whitework with pulled thread work. This type is specifically associated with the village of Lefkara (Levkara) and generally known as Lefkara lace or Lefkara embroidery.

According to Pauline Johnson, both of these forms of embroidery derive from sixteenth century Italian traditions, but this idea is not generally accepted. In the mid-twentieth century there was a deliberate revival of Lefkara whitework, and it continues to be made at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

In addition to the two types of embroidery mentioned above, a number of eighteenth century towels and women’s embroidered headscarves have survived. These are made from a fine cotton with embroidered borders. It is very difficult to tell whether these items derive from Turkey itself or were made in Cyprus.

As a generalisation, Cyprian designs tend to be a little cruder and they are not always reversible as normal for Turkish examples. Another form of Cyprian embroidery can be seen on surviving women’s embroidered belts with large metal clasps (see illustration). These belts are associated with married women and were often made as part of a woman’s wedding outfit. Neither of these forms are still being made on a regular basis in Cyprus.


  • JOHNSON, Pauline (1972). A Guide to Greek Island Embroidery, London: Victoria and Albert Museum/HMSO, p. 31.
  • POLYCHRONIADIS, Helen (1980). Greek Embroideries, Athens: Benaki Museum, p. 28.

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


Last modified on Tuesday, 09 May 2017 17:44