Technique Profile: Couching Embroidery

[Documentation of the British Museum’s Palestine Textile Collection: A Knowledge Exchange Fellowship]

By OmarJoseph Nasser-Khoury

For this blogpost I have decided to focus on one type of surface embellishment embroidery Couching (tahrir, shughul talhami) that I came across whilst working on the British Museum textile collections from Palestine. Couching is the second most prevalent decorative surface work found throughout Palestine. The technique was best developed and used in the Bethlehem and Beit Jala area, especially in the late 19th and early 20th century. It is often thought that the technique was probably inspired and developed from Ottoman couching embroidery (see Weir, 1989: 127; Kawar & Nasir, 1992: 15; Kawar, 2011: 139). In the south, in the Jerusalem and Bethlehem area the couching embroidery was done on silk taffeta inserts that were usually added to the dress. Couching later spread to the southern coast, namely in Beit Dajan, Deir Terif and neighbouring villages who started to use this type of embroidery on their dress from the early 20th century. Couching embroidery was produced both personally and commercially in varying degrees of quality and  refinement. Low quality or imitation couching was often referred to as “rasheq.” (see Kawar Vogelsan-Eastwood, 2016: 366; Weir: 1989: 127)

Bibliography

Kawar, W. K., & Vogelsang-Eastwood, G. (2016). “Palestinian Embroidery and Clothing” in Encyclopaedia of Embroidery from the Arab World. Edited by Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood. London: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 354 -396.

Kawar, W. K. (2011). Threads of Identity: Preserving Palestinian Costume and Heritage. Nicosia: Rimal Publications.

Kawar, W. K., & Nasir, T. T. (1992). Palestinian Embroidery: Traditional “Fallahi” Cross-Stitch. Munich: State Museum of Ethnography.

Weir, S. (1989). Palestinian Costume. London: The British Museum Publications Ltd.

CAPTIONS

Detail of a bird motif, which at first sight looks more like a dinosaur, couching embroidered above a watch motif on the top sleeve of a village woman’s dress from the Bethlehem and Beit Jala areas in the south of Palestine from the early 20ths century.

Bethlehem area chest panel, with four floral motifs in very fine couching embroidery, or rasheq. The panel is edged with zigzag appliquee and herringbone stitch embroidery in coloured floss silk. The Bethlehem chest panel later evolved from this simple design to a much more densely couching embroidered panel.
This vividly coloured, couching embroidered chest panel is in the style of Bethlehem and Beit Jala, however, on fine inspection it is obvious that the quality of the embroidery and execution is not as fine as could be. This could have been an imitation or a poor rendition. The Panel is further embellished with zigzag applique and fishbone embroidery using coloured floss silk. Notice how the embroidery is more dense on this panel. Better and finer examples exist where one cannot see the base fabric for the density of the embroidery.
Detail of very fine couching embroidery on a red felted wool jacket (taqsiereh) from Bethelehm and/or Jerusalem, from the late 19th/ early 20th C. The work on this jacket, like similar exames in the collection, is exceptionally fine. Satin stitch embroidery is also used to fill in and embellish the couching motifs. It is almost without question that this was the work of an accomplished master and professional embroiderer.
This epaulette, or nishan, is made of burgundy coloured cotton velvet patch, appliqued on the shoulder of a village woman’s dress from Beit Dajan in the Jaffa area from the 1930’s. The epaulette is couching embroidered with metallic silver foiled cord and embellished with satin stitch embroidery in coloured floss silk.
This Child’s waistcoat comes from the Galilee area in the north of Palestine. The waitcoat was probably made by professional tailors and embroiderers in Syria or Turkey and worn in Palestine in the early 20th century. The couching embroidery is done in golden metallic cord on black felted wool. It is thought that this style of embroidery inspired the Bethlehem couching style.
This is a detail of a long sleeved tight jacket from the Galilee area, worn in the early 20th century. The very simple couching embroidery along the side of a buttonhole stand on the front opening is typical of garments worn in the north of Palestine that were made or inspired by Syrian and Ottoman tailors. Simple couching along the edges and openings of garments, especially jackets is very common in the north of Palestine.

All images in this blogpost are taken by OmarJoseph Nasser-Khoury. All textiles shown are from the British Museum Palestine Textile Collection.

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