Roaming the vintage stalls in London’s Portobello Road Market, Dr. Reem Tariq El-Metwally came across this find and was quick to acquire it. Stylistically and from the workmanship, it can be dated to mid-20th century.
A Moroccan (qaftan) made with jacquard technique, where the stamens and weft are burgundy and gold. The rose motif is woven in burgundy on the gold side, and gold on the burgundy side.
The qaftan is open in the front to its full length, and the round collar and front longitudinal slits on both sides are surrounded by ribbons made of gold and burgundy silk bands. This edging is called (sififah), and it is also added around the circumference of the two wide sleeve slits. The sleeve has a side slit closed with ball buttons (iqad) made of gold and burgundy silk. Soft metallic straw was added to the sleeves at the shoulders and the sides of the qaftan.
This particular qaftan has two unique features not usually seen in traditional qaftans; first, the two side pockets, and second, the circular collar with raised back.
Historians disagreed about the oldest origins of the qaftan, some give credit to India and Persia, while others to the Ottomans. Some assert that it arrived in Morocco at the time of the Islamic conquest around 680 CE. While still others claim that the qaftan is Moroccan in origin, flourishing during the reign of the Moroccan Sultan Ahmed al-Mansur al-Dhahabi (1578–1603), and from there spread through Andalusia at the beginning of the ninth century CE, thanks to the musician Ziryab.
Most likely, the qaftan was used since antiquity by several ethnic groups in ancient Mesopotamia, possibly sewn from wool, cashmere, silk, or cotton, and originally a long vest-like tunic tied at the waist with long sleeves, typically worn by men. The first documented mention of the qaftan in Morocco appeared in the 16th century, although the qaftan had been worn across the Middle East and Persia long before this time.
Regardless of the differences in viewpoints, no one denies the fact that the qaftan is popular in the Arab Maghreb countries, and that the aesthetic was especially popular in Fes, Tetouan, and Rabat. Indeed, history attests that the city of Fes was known for its textile and weaving factories since the beginning of the thirteenth century AD. Around that time the number of factories exceeded three thousand, and they would have been producing the fabric used to make qaftans.
The qaftan can be worn on both formal and informal occasions, depending on the embroidery and stitching. It is the outfit that expresses the culture of an entire society. Designing, sewing, and embroidering with gold thread or silk are activities that require skill. It is said, ‘the qaftan is the service of a teacher,’ meaning that the sewing and embroidery involved in making a qaftan is that of a skilled craftsman. Among the most famous types of embroidery known in Morocco -rabat- after Rabat city, and fassi, after Fez, are the most common.