Fes Gold Embroidery (Morocco)

Detail of Fes goldwork embroidery, c. 1960's Detail of Fes goldwork embroidery, c. 1960's Courtesy Textile Research Centre, Leiden, acc. no. TRC 2001.0171.

The production of gold embroidery in Morocco is not unique to Fes, but the city is particularly famous for it. In the 1930's the work of gold thread embroiderers in Fes was documented by the French writer, Anne-Marie Goichon, and much of what she wrote in 1939 with respect to techniques still applies to the latter half of the twentieth century.

Gold and silver embroidery is typically done on velvet or leather. Until the mid-twentieth century the production of the thread was a speciality of the Jews in the mella or Jewish quarter. Nowadays, much of the gold thread is imported from India or East Asia or is mass-produced in Morocco.

The technique used for Fes metal thread embroidery is couching. The sewing thread used for holding the metal threads in place was traditionally a strong linen thread, locally called hit susi. It was originally imported from the town of Susa (Sousse) in Tunisia. The patterns are drawn on the leather or cloth by male artisans and then given to the women. Subsequently paper designs are cut out for decorating slippers, while thin leather is used for larger pieces, thus providing the desired raised effect. Each design has its own name, such as a circle, which is called teffaha or ‘apple’, flowers are yasmina (jasmine). Other designs include tear drops (mressa), ovals (guza) or walnuts, squares and lozenges (zellij or ‘tiles’).

Much of this style of work was used for small items of soft furnishing, such as cushions or more commonly, for items of attire. Gowns made of velvet, for example, were normally decorated with gold and silver thread embroidery. In particular, dark colours were popular, such as black, dark green, dark blue and violet. More recently the range of colours has been expanded. During the nineteenth century, kaftans made of silk velvet and silk brocades were worn by both men and women. These garments were often decorated with elaborate gold thread braiding and embroidery.

At the end of the twentieth century velvet kaftans decorated with applied gold thread embroidery were still worn for weddings and special occasions. Slippers and belts (hizam) are also often embroidered with metal thread. Other items of clothing that are decorated with gold thread embroidery include children’s clothes, such as girls’ belts and slippers, and boys’ circumcision costumes. The latter are often decorated with a design of garlands and a crescent moon.

Other objects worked with gold thread are bags and pouches, some of which intended as Qur’an cases. Cushions were also worked in gold thread, either on leather or velvet. Larger pieces of gold embroidery are the hiti or wall hangings used both in houses and in tents of the wealthy.


  • DENAMUR, Isabelle (2003). Moroccan Textile Embroidery, Paris: Flammarion.
  • GOICHON, Anne-Marie (1939), 'La broderie au fil d'or en Fes', Hesperis 26, pp. 49-85, and  241-281.
  • 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. 197-200.


Last modified on Thursday, 25 May 2017 15:45