(Pre-) Modern Middle East and North Africa

(Pre-) Modern Middle East and North Africa

Morocco lies in the extreme northwest of the African continent. It has a coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The region that is now Morocco has been inhabited since ancient times, and over the centuries many different ethnic and cultural groups have settled in the area, the largest groups being the Arabs who occupied the urban centres, and the Berbers who live throughout the country.

For centuries, Morocco has been known for the production of leather goods, which were sometimes embroidered in various techniques. The range of embroidered leather objects includes animal trappings (such as saddles), bags and satchels, belts, pillows, poufs, purses and wallets, stools, sword and dagger sheaths, as well as a range of slippers (babuch) for men, women and children.

A burnous is a man’s hooded cloak traditionally worn in North Africa, especially Morocco. There is a particular example that is now in the Royal Collection, London (RCIN 61156). It is believed to have been owned by the French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, and taken after he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo (Belgium) on 18 June 1815.

The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam houses a small Ottoman purse (20 x 9 cm) that appears to have belonged, according to a letter that was inside the purse, to the grand vizier [Kara Mustafa] of the Ottoman Empire during the siege of Vienna in 1683. The purse is made of red satin and decorated with floral motifs embroidered with gold and silver thread

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London houses an embroidered leather wallet, dated 1682, from Ottoman Turkey. It is worked with metal threads and lined with silk. It measures 62 x 23 cm.

Oya is a Turkish word referring to various forms of narrow lace trimmings, made and worn throughout the eastern and southern parts of the Mediterranean region, as well as in parts of Armenia. It is particularly associated with Turkey. Oya is often used to decorate garments, especially women’s headscarves and household textiles, such as sheets, table cloths and towels. Modern oya is also used to create jewellery.

In the Ottoman world, the paçalık was the name of the embroidered dress worn by the bride the day after her wedding. It was also the name for a piece of embroidered cloth (always worked in a pair), sewn onto the legs of a woman's underpants.

The Textile Research Centre (TRC), Leiden, houses a pair of hand embroidered shoes from the Siwa oasis, Egypt. Localled called srabin, the shoes date to the late twentieth century.

The Qalamoun region lies just to the north of Damascus (Syria) and stretches nearly as far as the city of Homs. The traditional Qalamoun outfit for women includes a pair of decorated trousers and a decorated dress. 

The village of Quteife lies in the Qalamoun region of western Syria. It was known for its distinctive red festive dresses with some embroidery on the neck opening, skirt front and along the edges of its large, triangular sleeves. Perhaps because of their colour they have comparatively little embroidery, in comparison to other Syrian embroidered garments.

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.

Raf-Raf is a town on a headland southeast of Bizerte, Tunisia. It is famous for its embroidered bridal costumes, especially the tunics and waistcoats. The wedding wardrobe of the Raf-Raf women consists of several types of outfits worn on different days.

Raf-Raf is a small town on a headland southeast of Bizerte, Tunisia. It is famous for its embroidery. The embroidery is used for its elaborate, everyday tunics for women (suriya mabdu) and for the elaborate regional Raf-Raf wedding outfit. The evolution of the Raf-Raf costume has been described by the Tunisian costume historian, Aziza ben Tanfous, in Les Costumes Traditionnels Feminins de Tunisie (1978:60, pls. 13-17).

Raf-Raf is a small town, southeast of Bizerte, Tunisia. It is famous for its regional bridal costume and its everyday tunic or chemise for women (suriya mabdu). This latter style of dress was still being worn at the end of the twentieth century, but its use is rapidly dying out. The suriya mabdu is made in various forms. Basically, it is a rectangular garment, previously of linen, now of cotton, with a decorative plastron.

Rasheq is a local term to describe a form of Bethlehem couching that has been copied by embroiderers from outside of the Bethlehem region. It was generally regarded as a poorer copy of ‘true’ Bethlehem couching. There is also a style of embroidery produced in Egypt called Rashq, but this is not the same as the Bethlehem form.

Rashq embroidery is the general name for a form of embroidery from the Delta of Egypt. It originated in a dense form of passementerie used in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Egypt for Bedouin men’s waistcoats. Rashq embroideries are made using a sewing machine with one needle and two separate threads.

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:

The Textile Research Centre (TRC), Leiden, houses an elaborately decorated face veil from the northern parts of the Sinai, Egypt. It measures 36 x 32 cm; the bead tassels are about 50 cm long. Locally called a burqa, the veil is made of cotton cloth and decorated with cotton thread, metal coins and glass beads.

The Siwa oasis in Egypt has some very distinctive sartorial traditions, which include embroidered bridal dresses. A basic Siwa bridal dress takes the form of a large ‘T’ shape. It has long wide sleeves, with a ‘shoulder’ seam, which reach almost to the elbow.

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