Coptic Embroidery

Coptic Roundal, 8th Century

Coptic Roundal Depicting the Annunciation, 7th/8th Century


The name Copt derives from the Arabic word "Qibt" for Egyptian, which was taken from the Greek word for Egyptian, "Aigyptos." The term "Copt" originally referred to the native Egyptians, as opposed to the Greek or Arab invaders. While later "Copt" became a religious designation referring to Christian Egyptians, the Coptic period is considered to be confined to the first millennium of the Christian era, when Christianity thrived in Egypt. Thus, Coptic textiles are the products of the Egyptians, who may or may not have been Christian, who lived in the beginning of the Christian era.

Designs, Styles and Techniques

Because the Coptic community was Christian, its textiles were heavily influenced by Christian themes, although there are examples of secular designs in surviving Coptic textiles. One feature that differeniates Coptic embroidery and design in general from Islamic Egyptian work is the use of human figures, which one does not see in Islamic design.

One of the major techniques for producing textiles was weaving, but there are several surviving examples of embroideries. Several stitches are prominant in Coptic embroidery, these include:

Many different materials were used, but linen was a popular base fabric, with many designs then worked in silk or wool.

Some Extant Pieces


Sources of Further Information

  • Badawy, Alexander. Coptic Art and Archaeology: the Art of the Christian Egyptians from the Late Antique to the Middle Ages. (Cambridge, MIT Press: 1978)
  • Baginski, Alisa and Amalia Tidhar Textiles from Egypt: 4th-13th Centuries C.E. (Jerusalem: L.A. Mayer Memorial Institute for Islamic Art, 1980)
  • Carroll, Diane Lee Looms and Textiles of the Copts: First Millennium Egyptian Textiles in the Carl Austin Rietz Collection of the California Academy of Sciences (San Francisco: California Academy of Sciences, 1988)
  • Friedman, Florence D. Beyond the Pharaohs: Egypt and the Copts in the 2nd to 7th Centuries A.D. Museum of Art, (Providence: Rhode Island School of Design, 1989)
  • Hondelink, H. (ed.) Coptic Art and Culture (Cairo: Shouhdy Publishing House, 1990)
  • Johnstone, Pauline. The Byzantine Tradition in Church Embroidery (Chicago: Argonaut, 1967)
  • Rutschowscaya, Marie-Helene. Coptic Fabrics (Paris: Adam Biro, 1990)
  • Thompson, Deborah Coptic Textiles in the Brooklyn Museum (Brooklyn: The Brooklyn Museum, 1971)
  • Thomas, Thelma K. Textiles from Medieval Egypt, A.D. 300-1300 (Pittsburgh: The Carnegie Museum of Natural History, 1990)
  • Warner, Pamela. Embroidery: A History (London: Batsford, 1991)

Coptic Chain Stitch Figures, 13th Century

Coptic Chain Stitch Figures, 13th Century, silk on linen

Image kindly provided by Prof Michael Greenhalgh