Textiles & Costume

A fabric tour around the World – the Middle East and North Africa

Last week we visited Europe, and all the cities and countries and valleys there that gave their names to the fabrics that we wrap ourselves in.

This week let’s head to the Middle East and North Africa, which have been a major trading and production area of cloth for millennia.

There I would visit:

Gaza in Palestine, the fabric centre famous for gauze, which began to be imported into Europe in the 13th century.

I'll happily go just about anywhere that has a nice beach

Historically gauze was made from silk, but today it is usually cotton

Mosul in Iraq, may be the origin of the word muslin. Marco Polo describes the fabric being sold by salesmen known as musolini.

It looks like a beautiful (if smoggy) city. I'd love to visit Iraq and Iran - I hope this becomes possible soon.

White muslin evening dress, 1800-1810, V&A Museum

Damascus, in Syria, was among the first places to create damask in the early Middle Ages, and carried the name with the fabric up into Europe.

I feel uplifted just looking at it.

Silk damask, Italy, ca. 1680 to 1690, V&A Museum

The El-Fustat district of Cairo, Egypt produced a strong fabric of linen and cotton which came to be known as fustian.

Pots, El Fustat, Old Cairo

Block printed fustian, France, 1685-1725, V&A Museum

I could also tour the rest of Egypt to commemorate Egyptian cotton, which is not cotton that is grown in Egypt, but a particularly long-staple cotton, and (rather loosely) the fabric made from it.

Egypt, it's not all about pyramids (though having made it to Egypt it would be inexcusable not to go all the way and see them too!)

You are so soft and fluffy!

After the Middle East, our tour will take us to India, which donated a plethora of names, all of which I will tell you about…next week.


  1. MrsC says

    This is so interesting! Thank you for putting these tours together 🙂

  2. Yes… musolini… For me, Musolini will always be connected with my sister’s story of how she was portraying Musolini in a holiday camp tongue-in-cheek theatre, and added to its tongue-in-cheek-ness by entering her scene (the Munich conference) too late, and apologising (already as Musolini) that her tram was late. So now, if I can also add the detail that it’s actually fabric…

    Anyway. This keeps being an awesome guide!

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