Rabat Embroidery (Morocco)

Close-up of a piece of early 20th century Rabat embroidery. Close-up of a piece of early 20th century Rabat embroidery.

Rabat is the modern capital of Morocco and is located along the Atlantic Ocean, at the mouth of the river Bou Regreg and opposite the city of Salé. Rabat has long been known for its trade and the production of textiles, including embroideries.

The embroidery was used to decorate a wide variety of items, including bed covers, chest covers, cushions, handkerchiefs (mherma), scarves (derra), shawls, valances, as well as tikkas (waist cords) for women’s baggy trousers. One of the most widely embroidered items in Rabat, however, were the embroidered door curtains (izar, pl. izur).

In general, Rabat embroidery can be divided into two types, Old Rabat and New Rabat forms.

Old Rabat embroideries: The oldest surviving Rabat embroideries appear to date back to the late seventeenth century. They were mostly made using white or natural even-weave cotton, which was sometimes checked, striped or damasked. The coloured floss silk thread used for the embroidery was locally produced. In particular deep blue, old gold and sometimes red were popular colours. Patterns were not drawn on the ground material, but outlined by a line of freehand stitches and filled in by the main embroidery.

The main stitches used for Old Rabat embroidery include blanket stitch, chain stitch, chevron stitch, darning stitch, satin stitch, and sometimes seed stitch, and stem stitch for details. The embroidery was tensioned by sewing it to a stuffed cushion laid on the knees, rather than on an embroidery frame. The earlier designs associated with Old Rabat embroidery include anthropomorphic motifs, such as rows of stylised figures with round heads and full skirts. Other popular patterns include squares, crosses and curlicues or ovals with curlicues. Later examples, especially from the early nineteenth century onwards, tend to include stylised plant motifs. In the earlier examples, segments of the ground material were also covered, usually in the form of discrete geometrical motifs placed in horizontal rows above the embroidered borders. As time passed, however, more and more of the ground cloth outside of the otherwise embroidered areas was covered with simple stitching.

New Rabat embroideries: The above styles went out of fashion from the mid-nineteenth century onwards and a new form was adopted. This is characterised by profuse, dense, multi-coloured designs using strong contrasting colours. In addition, more and more of the ground cloth (an open weave material of either cotton or linen) was covered with stitching. At the same time there was a move to a greater use of back stitch, feather stitch, running stitch and satin stitch. These changes in technique and appearance were more suitable for the decoration of larger items, such as the famous Rabat door curtains. Sometimes New Rabat embroidery is worked on tulle or bobbinet decorated with both satin stitch embroidery in silk and, with a hook, chain stitch (tambour embroidery) and a thick cotton thread. The tambour work was used to create simple floral and geometric patterns. This form of embroidery was often used for soft furnishings such as bed curtains.


  • BRUNOT-DAVID, Christiane (1943). Les broderies de Rabat, Rabat: Institut des hautes-études marocaines; Collection Hespéris.
  • DENAMUR, Isabelle (2003). Moroccan Textile Embroidery, Paris: Flammarion.
  • STONE, Caroline (1985). The Embroideries of North Africa, London and New York: Longman.
  • VOGELSANG-EASTWOOD, Gillian and Caroline STONE (2016). 'Embroidery from Morocco,' in: Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood (ed.), Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World, London: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 188-209, esp. pp. 201-203.

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 4 June 2016)


Last modified on Monday, 02 January 2017 20:58