A Little Bit of History from the Desert

A Little Bit of History from the Desert

Here's a picture from my balcony in Madaba, Jordan. I hope to find some interesting textiles in the bazaars as I travel through the country.

Here’s a picture from my balcony in Madaba, Jordan. I hope to find some interesting textiles in the bazaars as I travel through the country.

I’m in Jordan today. Yes, the Jordan in the Middle East, northeast of Egypt and Israel. I woke up in Madaba to a beautiful sunrise and rose blooms over the desert. I’m here on holiday, to ride my bike and spend the later afternoons looking for textiles in the bazaars.

The Middle East has always been a nexus of textile production. Trade routes commonly known as the Silk Road terminated on their western end in the eastern Mediterranean ports. As a result, these markets were also the centers of textile production.

Textiles of the Middle East during the Middle Ages were highly prized goods. I’d venture to say they still are. Many of the words we use to describe textiles in the English language are derived from Persian, Arabic, and Turkish – terms like damask, taffeta, cotton, muslin, seersucker, and mohair.

Historical value

Long ago, textiles in this region were also often accepted as payment of taxes or other moneys owed. Visiting officials and ambassadors were given gifts of cloth or garments. In a part of the world where much of the population was once primarily nomadic, interiors were furnished with textiles used to cover floors, walls, cushions, and to create beds and storage of all kinds.

Traditionally, gifts of any kind were also presented in a textile wrapper. The more elaborate the wrapper the greater honor was intended. Textiles were thought to be able to hold powers of protection or harm, depending on the symbols and inscriptions incorporated into them.

After the death of Muhammad, representation of living creatures was banned in most cultures of the region. As a result, Islamic design developed a beautiful metaphorical language all its own, utilizing geometry, calligraphy, vegetal, and architectural forms (though in many Persian & Central Asian silks and carpets, human and animal figures do appear).


Elaborately patterned silks were produced throughout the Middle East in all sorts of complex weaves – such as twills, lampas, and brocades. Silks of a more simple nature, tafta and satin weaves, were also quite numerous. A cloth made from a silk warp and a cotton weft, known as alaca, produced a more “economical” textile.

Tiraz textiles are a silk fabric, particularly important from the tenth to the fourteenth centuries, embellished with a border containing inscriptions of religious quotations and often woven in gold thread. Baghdad was the best known source of tiraz but it was produced in many other Middle Eastern locations. The borders appear most commonly on upper sleeve bands. They are were also found on burial shrouds and ceremonial textiles.

Cotton and linen

Both cotton and linen, ranging more heavy canvas to lightweight gauze, were widely produced in the Middle East. Textile printing also existed and, by the sixteenth century, a printing industry existed in Syria, later expanding into Anatolia.

Mohair and wool

Mohair, camel hair, and goat hair – referred to as cashmere or pashima, is used to weave soft and beautifully patterned shawls throughout the region. These shawls became very popular in the west during the nineteenth century.

The patterns, woven in twill tapestry or other complex compound weaves, featured colorful and elaborate designs. One such design was a complex vegetal one known as boteh. In the west this design became to be known as the paisley motif, named after Paisley, Scotland where textile mills produced copies of the design in the latter nineteenth century.

The best known wool textiles of the region are the pile and flat cloths made as rugs, bags, wall coverings, and the like. The oldest surviving example of Islamic carpet weaving is the “Fostat” fragment from the ninth century found in Cairo.

Carpet design can be divided into 3 categories

  1. Tribal carpets, produced by nomadic or village households for their own use, tend to be geometric in design and reflect regional affiliations.
  2. Court carpets, created by the finest artists of the day, are usually the most intricate and finely knotted.
  3. Urban manufactured carpets are the third category. These are often technically fine but most often have less intricate designs.

Adventure time!

I’m excited to see what kinds of things I’ll be able to unearth over the next week as I wander about Jordan. Hopefully, I’ll have some interesting finds to share with you!

Textiles, especially those that are handmade, have such a deep history. I love learning about a design or technique that is unique or specific to a certain village or area. I also enjoy meeting local artisans who still produce works of art in the same way their ancestors always have.

This all ties into one of my previous posts about passing on skilled expertise to younger generations. Its a tradition pretty much as old as human civilization and one very much worth sustaining.

I wish you all a week of amazing discoveries (whether they be ancient or not). Next week I’ll be posting from Cairo. Arak qaribanaan.

Cashmere Wall Art

Cashmere Wall Art

Blank Canvas

Cashmere wall art.

Cashmere wall art.

I really dislike drab walls. I’m always looking for cheap, out of the box ways to splash up my walls. I’ve never attempted any type of fabric wall hanging before, so I thought, “Throw caution to the wind and dress up that naked wall!”

I was given some really awesome cashmere materials in vibrant colors. Sadly, the pieces weren’t big enough to make a nice blouse or skirt out of. I’ve been searching for a great creative way to showcase this amazing material. This wall art turned out to be the perfect display piece.

**Tip: Wash all new materials prior to use to avoid shrinkage resulting from later washes.

**ProTip: Iron cut pieces before sewing and in between each step. This helps in the sewing process as well as setting the stitches to lessen unraveling with age. Often the end results tend to look more professional as well.

Level: Beginner

Time to Complete: 1 – 2 hours

Sewn By Machine: 1/4 in. straight stitch


  • 9 – 16″ W strips, varying lengths
  • 5 – 20″ L strips, varying widths
    • **I made 1″, 2″ and 3″ strips. I didn’t want a basic uniform checkerboard pattern and varying the strip size helped add some uniqueness to the finished design.
  • 1 – 14″ W x 18″ L Canvas Frame
  • 1 – 14″ W x 18″ L Cardboard for back of wall hanging

I measured an extra 1″ on all sides of the frame. I’d rather it be a little big than too small. It can be quickly cut down to fit the frame if too big.

Let’s Get Started

  1. Cut out strips and iron.
  2. Iron the 1/4″ seam on all four sides of the strips. Since this material is 100% cashmere, it doesn’t hold well when pinned, moved quite a lot during sewing. The pins were also falling out the second I moved my material to the sewing machine. I found ironing each seam on a wool heat setting helped secure the seam without using pins.

    Fabric strip seams.

    Fabric strip seams.

  3. Sew around all four sides of all fabric strips using the 1/4″ ironed seam.
  4. Arrange the fabric strips in lines down and across. I arranged them, then put the frame over it to help visualize. It took me several times to find an arrangement I was happy with.
  5. Once you have the strips set up the way you want them, put them under and over each other to create a more defined checkerboard look.
  6. Start sewing the fabric strips together. I pinned the various short strips to the first long strip. It took awhile to sew each individual strip onto the longer one but it paid off in the next step.
  7. Sew on the remaining long strips. Remember to keep the over/under pattern. This step went much easier. Since the smaller strips were already attached to the first and in order, all I had to do was sew around the 4 sides of the long strip. The smaller strips were all sewn on in one, quick easy step.

    Piecing together.

    Piecing together.

  8. Take the fabric piece to the frame. Place on the cardboard back piece. Cut the fabric on all sides about 1/4″ past the cardboard edge.

    Fit to the frame.

    Fit to the frame.

  9. Sew around the piece using the extra 1/4″ seam you just measured out.
  10. Attach fabric artwork to back of the cardboard. I used staples around the edges.
  11. Place into frame. I decided not to use the glass for the frame. I felt the way the fabric flowed without being pinned down by the glass really added some splashy appeal.
  12. Hang on your wall, plop into a chair, sip a cup of tea and enjoy the vibrant new addition to the room!

Stacey’s Stitches

Hi all! I’m Stacey Martinez 🙂
I love to design imaginative custom items for my active, crazy family. Bright colors and beautiful fabrics sing “Stacey, Stitch Me!” Let your imagination inspires you to breathe personality into every stitch!

Please feel free to comment with questions, suggestions, and pictures of your own creations. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!