Thin, flat strips of metal are worked into hexagonal mesh fabric known as tulle (hence the arabic term "tulle-bi-telli"). The tulle is fine strong cotton. Thin metal strips of nickel, silver, copper, or brass plated with some mixture of silver, about 1/8th" wide are threaded into a wide flat needle with a wide flat eye. The strips are threaded into the mesh, crossed over, flattened crisply with the fingernails, cut, then flattened into a sort of packet which is stamped into/onto the fabric. Each bit is about 1/8" x 1/4" long and these oblong dots are worked into designs both geometric and figural. When finished, a huge roller is passed over the textile to flatten the metal down even more.



Metal embroidery in Egypt dates back to 3000BC. The fibres, made of flax were decorated with precious metals, often gold. The motifs and designs are influenced by early Coptics. This fabric was almost certainly the transparent material which is worn by characters in tomb paintings. It is even mentioned in the Bible in Exodus 29: “and they did beat the gold into thin plates and cut it into wires, to work it in the blue, and in the purple, and in the scarlet, and in the very fine linen, with cunning work.”

They were traditionally worn by Egyptian women in various ways, and highly favoured by dancers. Today Egyptian dancers wear both loose cut and form-fitting beledi dresses to convey the ultimate Egyptian expression of dance costuming.

Asyut shawls were popular with European tourists in the 1920s when the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb ignited an interest for Egyptian goods. They lent themselves well to the exotic glamour of the roaring twenties and thirties and were often made into garments.


Rivers, V. Z.,The Shining Cloth: Dress & Adornment That Glitters, Thames & Hudson, 1999, p 91

Valerie Cavill 2008