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Traditional Moroccan Embroidery

Embroidered linens are found in nearly every Moroccan home, no matter the location of the village nor the social status of its inhabitants. It’s not uncommon to take breakfast on a beautifully embroidered tablecloth and dab the corners of the mouth with an embroidered linen napkin as you sit at a table beneath a window embellished with embroidered sheers.

Delicate embroidery serves as both a means of financial support and social interaction among Moroccan women and is an art that has been passed from one generation to the next. In the 19th century, Moroccan girls were sent away to special schools to learn the art from experienced teachers known as maalmas.  These instructors kept all the pieces created by their pupils in consideration of their time spent teaching.  At its peak, there were more than 2,000 maalmsa operating in Morocco, though the wealthiest children learned at home from private maalmas, often using expensive fabrics collected during their parent’s journeys throughout the region.

Though most pieces are now machine-embroidered, the art continues to play a key role in Moroccan culture, as it has for the last several centuries. Embroidery if often part of a bride’s dowry, accumulated through several generations. On the eve of her wedding, a processional typically carries the treasured items to her new home and the bride almost always wears embroidered garments during the actual ceremony. Embroidery plays a key role in births as well- each newborn is gifted a delicately embroidered pillowcase and coversheet known as a rekab.

Many major cities throughout Morocco have their own unique style, though the city of Fez is the celebrated as the epicenter of Moroccan embroidery arts. The beautiful pieces created here traditionally involve monochromatic, geometric patterns in threads of deep blue, red, green or black on crisp white cotton. The triangle is a key design in this style of embroidery and is said to represent the eye.

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