Assiut/Assuit Design

Assiut at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Assiut Textiles in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of ArtThe venerable New York institution The Metropolitan Museum of Art, has a vast collection of textiles, clothing and accessory pieces in their collection.  In 1946, The Metropolitan incorporated the old Museum of Costume Art as a curatorial department, renaming it the Costume Institute. In January 2009, The Brooklyn Museum transferred its costume collection to the Met. Shortly thereafter, the museum remodeled its costume storage, research and display facilities. Today, The Anna Winter Costume Center is home to 4,200 square foot state of the art exhibition space for their collection.

Although this is a large space, only a fraction of the costume holdings can be displayed at one time. So as a boon to costume historians, scholars and researchers, much of the 35,000+ pieces of the Costume Instute are available for view online.

Info About the Met’s Costume Institute
Portal for The Collection Online

Assiut Highlights
However, you won’t find “assiut” in a simple search. The museum identifies artworks using standard art curatorial methods. Simple details such as title, artist, date, medium are all included in the basic descriptions of objects in the museum. Unfortunately, textiles are also described using this system, so many textiles become difficult to search for.  So instead of trying to find assiut fabric, researchers should search for the keywords, such as location ie, Egyptian or Egypt, and medium, cotton and metal.  The Metropolitan has made it easy to save your searches.  When you find objects that fit your search parameters, you can set up a free MyMet account, which will allow you to save your research items for easy future viewing.

Fashion Garments

Evening Coat: French, 1926 
Source: Metropolitan Museum
This gorgeous 1926 cocoon coat appears to have been made from one single densely stitched assiut piano shawl.  This absolutely gorgeous coat is a virtual mystery.  It is unknown who designed it, or who it was made for. Did the original owner purchase the assiut shawl on holiday in Egypt?  Did the seamstress or designer purchase it in bulk?  Was the assiut made in the 1920’s?  Or was it a family heirloom picked up during the Belle Epoque?  Even though we don’t know the specifics, we can certainly admire the design of the coat, with the complicated border pattern strategically used to emphasize the collar, hips, and back.

CI56.6.11_FEthnographic Garments

Source: Metropolitan Museum
There are also a few ethnographic garments held within the Met’s collection.  One in that I particularly like is the lovely assiut robe below.  Although not displayed so you can see it effectively, this garment is made in the traditional manner with straight sleeves and gussets, rather than a curved, set-in sleeve used today.  This style was once popularly worn as the top layer of a wedding dresses in Upper Egypt, but is now worn almost exclusively by dancers, especially those leading the wedding procession know as the zeffa, or who are performing cultural dances regionally specific to Upper Egypt.

Scarves, Stoles and Wraps
Assiut scarves and shawls entered the museum collection over the course of the last century as both donations and purchases.  Often the descriptions of a textile piece will reflect the taste of the day.  So what I might call a shawl, might be listed as a stole, or wrap.  A small scarf might be listed as a head scarf or even kerchief.  The beautiful assiut shawl below is a great example of how names can vary.  I might not be obvious from just the description “Middle Eastern Stole” that this is, in fact Egyptian Assiut.

Middle Eastern Stole
Source: Metropolitan Museum Egyptian Stole

There are several more garments, and many more shawls, stoles, and scarves to peek at in the Met’s collection.  If you’re interested in seeing more, you might want to try clicking through one of these links, and then check out the “related items” or simply type in a search for Egyptian, cotton and metal.  I hope you enjoy your visit to the virtual Met!

Dawn Devine ~ Davina
July 27, 2015



By Davina

Davina ~ Dawn Devine is a belly dance costume designer, dance instructor and author of more than a dozen publications on Middle Eastern dance.