Ma'dan Embroidered Blankets

These embroidered designs have been part of the Iraqi culture for millennia. They are intrinsically ancient as they are modern remaining as relevant today as when I began collecting them over 40 years ago. Berbere likely has the largest vintage heirloom-quality collection in the United States. Some dealers mistakenly call them Arab Cicims or Turkoman embroideries, but they are indigenously Iraqi. The above image shows one of these beautiful blankets made into an lovely ottoman.

Embroidered Blankets from The Marsh Arabs (Ma’dan) of Southern Iraq  
The middle and lower basin of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (home to the legendary cities of Ur and Babylon) in Iraq is comprised of a series of freshwater lakes, marshes and seasonal floodplains extending from Basrah in the east to within the outskirts of Baghdad to the west.

The Ma’dan has continuously occupied the Mesopotamian marsh region for at least 5000 years (widely regarded as the legendary site of the Garden of Eden .) In addition to their Islamic faith, the Ma’dan still holds many pre-Islamic beliefs; much of which is still carried over into their design process.

The embroidered blankets are unique to this specific region. Handwoven and comprised of locally spun and dyed wool, they are finished on ground looms in separate panels, which are stitched together before the embroideries process. They are then elaborately embroidered by Ma’dan girls for their marriage beds.

The sale of these blankets is a relatively recent phenomenon, and the best embroiderers have long occupied a position of respect within the community.
Each small group or village uses different designs that indicate the origins of the weaver. Each weaver knows the position and size of the patterns she wishes to appear on the finished work and weaves or embroiders free form. Geometric patterns are interspersed with environmental subjects such as the frog, scorpion, date palm or dome. Cultural items that predate modern religions by millennial.

The traditional weaving craft has all but disappeared from the culture. War, economic destabilization, and religious-cultural assimilation have eradicated the indigenous craftswomen who make these blankets. The Bedouin who supplied the woven cloth suitable for blankets has disappeared from the region. Similar blankets are being imported from other regions, and even from other countries to be sold at the few remaining souqs. The newer traditional designs, while pleasing and decorative, are not as densely applied as in the past, and as with many decorative arts, the older embroidered blankets are virtually impossible to find. And if you can, significantly more expensive.

For information on those not within Berbere’s permanent collection, please contact us. We will be featuring a series on Instagram in the coming weeks. We hope they are as compelling to you as they are to us.

Be safe and be well...