Moroccan embroideries tell an interesting story as each city produced a distinctive look. The Arabic name for morocco is El Magrib, meaning ’sunset’. It refers to its unique location as the westernmost Islamic country. It is also as far west as the Ottoman Empire reached. Moroccan culture and art were shaped by its unique location – connected to the Islamic tradition to the east, Europe to the north, and Sub Saharan Africa across the desert to the South. All three cultures influenced traditional Moroccan urban embroideries and textiles in style and techniques.
Moroccan cities, as a rule, produce textiles that incorporate traded materials bought from afar. They also produce commissioned work done in workshops and they are more affected by current fashion trends.
In contrast, rural areas depend on locally produced material, the work is done within the home by female family members and the design motifs are traditional.
The interesting interaction of Islamic, European, and African influences is further enhanced by the development of each urban center’s own unique characteristics. Each city developed its own style with differences in techniques, materials, designs, and color combination.
While there are similarities between Moroccan embroideries and their influence, Moroccan embroideries are unique and easily identifiable.
Unspun monochromatic silk on mostly cotton in counted thread technique, often reversible. The handwork combines various stitches such as running double, stem, and back stitch among others. The dense stitching contributes to a damask look. The design is mostly geometric with stars, diamonds, and stylized botanical motifs.
The composition is quite open with heavily embroidered borders. This type of subtle yet luxurious beauty is influenced by Ottoman embroideries particularly of Balkan and Greek Islands origin. Fez embroideries are mostly household linens such as bedding, tablecloths, and larger covers.
Stylized floral in freehand drawing executed with colorful polychrome silk in satin stitch on silk ground. Tetouan embroideries are reminiscent of Algerian, Coptic, and the further eastern Ottoman provinces. They were often used as wall hangings during festivities and as mirror covers.
Situated along the Atlantic coast, Rabat was a cosmopolitan city that had a large port and therefore was open to European influences from the north. Waves of migrations brought Jewish and Muslim textile traditions to the city.
Rabat embroideries can be either monochromatic or dazzlingly colorful. They can be large and dramatic and feature freehand drawing of large bouquets of abstracted flowers.
The stitches used are buttonhole, satin, and feather stitch. They are worked on muslin, patterned to cotton on netting, and newer pieces are often reversible and have lace edgings.
Rabat embroideries were used mainly for curtains and covers but can often appear in kaftans and belts.
Located on the Atlantic coast, south of Casablanca and Rabat, Azemmour was an important port city during the expulsion of the Jews and Muslims from Spain in the 17th century. As such, it received large waves of refugees with artisans among the migrants.
Azemmour embroideries were made by female Jewish embroiders and were executed with monochromatic silk on plain weave linen. The stitches used are plait, back, and darning stitch. They are used to completely cover the ground silhouetting the design elements which remain plain. This kind of work is derived from Moorish and Italian Renaissance influences and its main element are pairs of birds facing each other and flanking a vase. Other Azemmour embroideries are long panels with dense and meandering branches, also stylistically of European influence.