Take your needle, my child, and work at your pattern; it will come out a rose by and by. Life is like that – one stitch at a time taken patiently and the pattern will come out all right like the embroidery.

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Algerian embroidery

The embroidery, secular tradition, represents through the patterns, colors and techniques, the vivacious testimony of the life of yesteryear. Each discipline, in addition to the imaginative and creative aspect of its author, contemplates a reflection of everyday life.

Growing up on this practice had really sculpted my childhood and my personality. I remember watching my grandmother, my mother and my aunts working on embroidery. Each one of them had her own touch and inspiration. My grandmother for example used to knit scarves, and shirts for her grandchildren, my aunts used to hook and work on embroidery by hand, while my mother used an embroidery machine to make decor items for brides to be. As a young girl, I was really fascinated by the diversity of the colors, shapes and materials. Thanks to my mother, I became passionate and I quickly learned various raditional embroidery techniques.

The traditional embroidery field in Algeria is wide like an ocean; it varies from a region to another, but it certainly has one common aim, which is representing the heritage and the identity of our country.

The first thing my mother taught me, is how to hold a needle and a drum, then how to read and follow a pattern, how to choose colors and most importantly, how to be patient. It is all about following the techniques and staying focused. I started with a small piece of cloth and embroidery techniques for beginners. I soon fell in love with it and started to learn more and more. I discovered new techniques like the crossing stitch, stitch account

The first traces of this art goes back to the medieval era of the Berber kingdoms. It is a witness of the splendor of this civilization and its luxurious costumes. Embroidery was used not only on the textile of furniture covers like sofas, but also on the leather used to make equestrian boots and horse tacks.

The Ottoman civilization influenced the Algerian embroidery by incorporating new techniques like the « Fetla » or « madjboud » that require the use of golden threads. These two techniques are used to embroider the « Karakou », a traditional dress initially worn by Algerian aristocracy in festivals, weddings and ceremonies back in the 15th century in the ancient urban centers (Algiers, Constantine, Annaba, Telemcen, Oran).

The French era also had a huge influence on the local embroidery, according to my grandmother; the French nuns taught them some of the emblematic French embroidery technics like the cross-stitch, the stitch account and the tent stitch on canvas. Many schools for girls were opened at the time, and after independence, Algerian women were the ones running those schools.

The diversity of embroidery techniques in Algeria, testify about the extraordinary immaterial heritage related to various strata of the Algerian history, and attest the richness of the Algerian culture, that varies from region to region. For instance, Ottomans have mostly influenced the North of Algeria; in the center (Algiers), embroidery is made of silk thread, meanly to make the « Hayek » and its embroiled shawls; while the East regions use golden thread, to design geometric and vegetal patterns in order to embellish the « gandoura » of the brides. In the Berber mountains, shimmering colors of silk thread are used to decorate « timharamt » with repeated triangle shapes, representing symbol of happiness and prosperity. And down in the vast Algerian desert, embroidery is associated with weaving, it is meant to decorate their entire environment, from furniture to clothes, using bright colors and distinct patterns to symbolize the region’s old traditions.

This is how a thread can tell the history of a country and reveal a life style. For embroidery was considered as an essential part of a woman’s education and one of the main activities in the terraces, wast dar and kheimates of the old Algeria.

Author: Taib sara


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