Cloth of Egypt

All About Assiut
The History, Lore and Use of Tulle-Bi-Telli
Assiut – Assuit – Asyut – Azute – Siut – Soot
By Dawn Devine ~ Davina and Alisha Westerfeld © 2014 

Available Now for $29.95 at
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069227054X / 9780692270547
Page Count: 266
Binding Type: US Trade Paperback 8″ x 10″
Language: English
Color: Black and White with Bleed

WEB-PRO-1 -PRINCESS-FARHANA-ADJ-DAWN-SQUAREThe Cloth of Egypt: All About Assiut is a book about the unique and legendary Egyptian metal embroidered textile known as assiut. It has been prized among vintage textile collectors and amongst belly dancers – an unusual meeting of two unrelated worlds. I personally adore this cloth and have spent the last 15 years in a massive interdisciplinary research project to unearth the history of this cloth. My goal is to confirm the legends, debunk the myths, and present the true history of this amazing cloth.

Assiut cloth is the marriage of a Turkish single-stitch metal embroidery technique with Egyptian cotton tulle. The resulting textile is a richly embellished and supple material with a completely unique hand that conforms to the body and shimmers in the light. It carries the name Assiut, named after it’s city of origin, but is spelled in a myriad of different ways. In Egypt today, it’s known as tally; in Turkey, it’s tel kirma; belly dancers call it tulle bi telli; in the Western world, people select their favorite spelling of Assiut and label it so. In many major museums, it’s referred to clinically as “Egyptian textile” or by an objective description like “studded mesh stole.” Because of the seemingly endless variety of terms and spellings, it’s exceedingly difficult to conduct research on the subject.  But I’ve been chipping away at the historical archives and have constructed a timeline of Assiut.

Book Organization     This book is organized into four main parts that present the history, structure and care, integrating assiut into your wardrobe, and using assiut for making performance costumes.

Part 1 – Assiut History     From its role as a tourist collectible to its use in wedding processions, I’ve created a timeline of this magnificent cloth.  I tell the story of the social, political, and cultural milieux that set the stage for the development of this textile in the late 19th century in Upper Egypt and trace it through its use today.


Part 2 – Assiut Cloth     In chapter two, learn the details of the structure of the ground cloth, the construction of the embroidery stitch, meanings of many of the patterns and motifs, and how to identify the different styles of this cloth.  In this section, I address the problematic issues of cleaning, storage, repair and display of modern, vintage and antique textiles.


Part 3 – Assiut For Daily Wear    Love Assiut? Why not wear it? In chapter 3, I discuss how to pull your vintage pieces out of hiding and wear them.  I also delve into the use of  modern Assiut to add sparkle to your daily wardrobe.  This chapter has ideas and directions for making wearable accessories and garments out of antique, vintage, and modern assiut.


Part 4 – Assiut For Costuming     Long popular among belly dancers, this chapter contains step-by-step directions for designing and making a wide variety of costume ensembles, individual pieces, and accessories from assiut. This chapter presents all the information you will need to build quality costumes. From ethnographic to folkloric, tribal to glam, and all flavors of fusion, there are plenty of images to inspire and help transform your creative vision to a beautifully finished costume.


Assiut – A Few Fascinating Facts

  • Known as tulle bi telli or al tally throughout Egypt, in the west, this cloth is named after its city of origin, Assiut. This region was the heart of the Egyptian textile industry during the 19th century.
  • Assiut is spelled a variety of ways because it’s a transliterated word from Arabic into English.  The two most widely accepted spellings for the name of this Egyptian city are Assiut and Asyut, but there are dozens of variations on this spelling.
  • Shawls made from this embroidered cloth began appearing in the last quarter of the 19th century and were first made as tourist art for European and American travelers.
  • This fabric was first described in Edwardian era travel literature as “spangled mosquito netting.” Traveling women would purchase these shawls for wear over their hats to prevent bites from malaria-infected mosquitos.
  • Vintage assiut shawls are primarily made from the high-quality long-staple Egyptian cotton grown in the Assiut region.  The quality is so fine, antique dealers will sometimes mistake the cloth for linen or even silk.  Modern assiut is made with lower quality, shorter staple thicker cotton threads.
  • Production of Assiut reached its zenith of popularity in the 1920’s at the height of the archeological rush to uncover the ruins of ancient Egypt.