Date of this Version
From Textiles in Daily Life: Proceedings of the Third Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–26, 1992 (Earleville, MD: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1993).
Many inhabitants of Fez welcome modern lifestyles. But they also value their Muslim faith and cultural traditions which identify their Fezi heritage. One prominent symbol of that distinctive heritage is embroidery. It is highly visible throughout the city on decorative covers used in daily life and on special occasions, especially weddings.1
Although many cities in Morocco and abroad had distinctive styles of embroidery in the past, embroidery continues to prosper today almost exclusively in Fez. Its widespread manufacture and use provide insight not only into current practices but also into comparable customs elsewhere which have been mechanized.
The continuing existence of embroidery traditions, along with other handmade textile and handicraft practices, is a serendipitous result of geographic, economic, religious, and cultural factors. In addition, there was almost no European influence, apart from the Andalusian influx around 1500, until the late nineteenth century. Under French domination (1912-1956) French practices began to replace local traditions. A strong sense of cultural identity and regional pride has reemerged in Fez since independence in 1956 which is most evident in the city's renowned handicrafts, especially its embroidery.2
Three types of embroidery dominate in Fez today: Fez stitch, gold thread, and sewing machine embroidery. Each has distinctive features that affect its manufacturing process and its intended use. Most embroideries are made to serve specific functions, such as clothing, household furnishings, and even horse trappings. Some are indeed luxurious. Few embroideries are intended to be purely decorative, such as wall hangings.
Following general comments on embroidery in daily life, this paper includes a summary of each type of embroidery since they have more differences than similarities, embroidery practices in one Fezi family, and comments on the future of embroidery in Fez.
Most Fezis from all levels of society have some direct knowledge of embroidery, either from family members or from relatives who are involved in its manufacture or sale. Many tens of thousands of women in Fez do embroidery work in their homes. As girls, they started to embroider items for their trousseaus. As women, they make embroideries for their families and relatives, or for sale when income is needed or desired. For some, embroidery is a matter of choice, but for many, it is a financial necessity.