If you have ever visited the souks (markets) in Morocco, you are bound to have discovered the intricate Moroccan embroidery being displayed in the tiny shops. Morocco embroidery is an amazing art form that is slowly dying but still can be found in some of the ancient cities.
Embroidery, largely considered a woman’s task in Morocco, has served as a way for women to generate income for their family. Though perhaps it used to be traditional for most women to learn this as general housewife skills, it has recently been able to also benefit women financially as some market their beautiful products.
Before the twentieth century, many women were trained as young girls by a teacher at their homes. Most of the time, embroidery was only sold during times of economic need. However, during the twentieth century embroidery vocational schools became more popular. These schools might be the reason for some of the drop in embroidery among the wealthier class, as those girls had access to other forms of schooling. After the 1980’s, Moroccan embroidery began to flourish as it was recognized as a cultural art that could keep Moroccan tradition alive and help the country economically.
The history of Moroccan hand embroidery is supposed to have come from the Berber tattoo patterns or henna designs. This form of art is shown in items that they use every day: tablecloths, napkins, pillowcases and clothing such as the djellaba. There are other embroideries that are only for decoration or special occasions.
Fes Embroidery (Terz Fesi):
Named for the city of Fes, the spiritual capital of Morocco, this embroidery is both beautiful and unique. The special aspect of Fesi embroidery is that the back of the fabric has the same design as the front. There are no knots or tangles hidden underneath the tablecloth, but the reversible pattern is perfectly displayed when you flip the fabric over. In fact, it might be hard to tell which side is the front and which is the back!
The stitch is a mix between a cross stitch and straight stitches. It is amazing that many women do not even mark the cloth before they stitch. The pattern of Fesi embroidery is usually floral or geometric. There can be symbolism in the patterns chosen, but there does not have to be. For example, some women might embroider the hand of Fatima or a symbol of the evil eye for protection.
In Fes, the most common color for the embroidery is the Fes blue or green, which is also found on the pottery. Maroon, red, and mixed colors are also common colors.
Rabat is the capital of Morocco and its embroidery style differs from that of Fes. Mostly done on white cotton, Rabat embroidery tends to focus on one color embroidered in a floss silk. Sometimes it will have bright colors used in contrast to each other. The stitches are usually closer together, making a solid pattern. Again, floral or geometric patterns are the most commonly used.
Another type of embroidery that is popular in Morocco and particularly well-known in Fes is gold thread embroidery. This decorative, fancy embroidery is often used for celebration such as a wedding or on festive clothes. This embroidery is often done on heavier materials such as leather, velvet or silk clothing. This style is found on cushions, kaftans, wall hangings and even slippers.
The technique used for the gold thread embroidery is couching, where traditionally a strong thread held the gold threads in their positions. Often, it was the male artisans who drew and cut out the patterns before the women embroidered them. There are many different designs in gold thread embroidery, but some of more common ones are the teardrops, the circles and floral patterns.
Some people say that the use of embroidery on the Berber women’s headscarves is based off of the tattooing that they used to practice. When tattooing was no longer as customary, more women began embroidering their headscarves. They often embroider bright colors onto a dark background, using natural world inspiration for the design.
Sewing Machine Embroidery:
Although items with hand embroidery are often desired in Morocco as a symbol of status, machine embroidery is also becoming more popular due to its reduced cost and increased speed of production. Most women can tell the difference in the stitches, but as time goes on, less and less people are aware of what makes the quality of hand embroidery unique. Sewing machine embroidery is more popular in Rabat than in Fes.