Salé Embroidery (Morocco)

Silk embroidery from Sale, Morocco, 'old Salé' style,19th century. Silk embroidery from Sale, Morocco, 'old Salé' style,19th century. Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, acc. no. 23.186.17.

Salé is the twin town of Rabat, Morocco, situated on the opposite shore of the river Bou Regreg. The town was founded in the twelfth century AD. It developed commercial links with various Mediterranean and West European trading countries, including Italy, Spain, England and the Netherlands. From the eighteenth century onwards Salé became known for the production of embroideries, and in particular three main forms:

Old Salé embroidery: This type was worked in a bouclé stitch, which is basically a double running stitch loosely worked on the surface of the ground cloth, giving a looped, velvety appearance. The basic pattern is normally visible on the reverse of the ground material, but it is seldom clear on the front. This type of embroidery was normally worked on an even-weave linen or cotton ground, and dates to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The city was at that time known for the production of cushion covers with either monochrome or polychrome patterns. The former were the more common and included geometric and symmetrical designs. They were generally worked in a brick red or intense navy blue colour. The polychrome cushions included stylised tree motifs and geometric designs worked in a palette of four basic, but bright colours: blue, red, green and yellow, plus softer shades of the same.

Salé embroidered door hangings or curtains had a soft, velvety appearance and were again worked in bouclé stitch. These curtains were made in three vertical stripes, which were separately embroidered and then sewn together to form a width of about 200 cm. These were usually worked in either navy blue or brick red floss silk. The embroidery covers much of the lower part of the curtains: to a depth of between 30 and 40 cm. At the edges and where the stripes are sewn together there are often minaret-like decorations called tala. They can rise 50 cm or more above the main, embroidered border.

Plait stitch Salé embroidery: A nineteenth century form of Salé embroidery is worked in bands of connecting, geometric designs, notably diamonds, wave patterns and triangles. The ground material was initially an even weave linen, and later a cotton cloth. The designs are generally worked in plait stitch in brick red, cream, yellow, dark blue, dark purple and black floss silk.

New Salé embroidery: Although this style of work can be found on eighteenth century items, it is generally classed as the ‘New Salé’ style of work. It was often used for cushion ends. It was normally worked in plait stitch, with details in back stitch, cross stitch and running stitch. The work is non-reversible. Most designs are polychrome, with a black, very dark blue or dark carmine predominating. The designs used for New Salé work tend to be geometric with friezes of what appear to be minarets, as well as bands of figures, such as diamonds, hexagons of various forms, lozenges, quatrefoils, squares, stars, and so forth. Another popular design were sprays of leaves or flowers worked diagonally within a square. The borders of the piece were generally edged with embroidered ribbons of a darker colour than the embroidery.

See also: hiti


  • 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, London: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 188-209, esp. pp. 203-204.

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


Last modified on Monday, 06 March 2017 11:58