The Yemen Arab Republic occupies an unusually fertile part of the Arab Peninsula. In the coastal area of the country cotton is now grown thanks partly to the French, Lebanese and Chinese. There was at one time a large Jewish complement in Yemen, but most of these have now emigrated to Israel. Consequently it’s difficult to distinguish between Moslem and Arab embroidery in the area. Both forms feature chain stitch, herringbone stitch, Romanian stitch and straight stitch, often executed in zigzags or triangles. There are many foreign influences in Yemeni embroidery: the goldwork embroidery and laid work and couched work are heavily influenced by North African embroidery techniques and patterns. This connection was strengthened partly by early Arab colonisation, and also by the fact that both areas were once part of the Turkish Empire. Indian influence is also apparent in some forms of Yemini metal thread embroidery.
Yemini women work embroidered costume for personal use. One form is an indigo cotton calf-length sleeveless dress held in at the waist with a belt. The arm holes, front vertical neck slit, hem and necklace-shaped band are decorated with applied ric-rac braid, brightly coloured cotton tread worked in chain stitch, and goldwork thread worked in triangles and other geometric shapes. Another form of female costume consists of a sleeved indigo cotton dress with vertical seams to either side of the centre of the front. The seams are subsequently decorated with silk tread worked in chain stitch and Romanian stitch and metal thread stitched in tall, open ladder repeating motifs. These motifs are flanked by diagonal branches of goldwork chain stitch, by cowrie shells which are held in place by two black straight stitches, and by small pieces of red felt hemmed to the ground fabric.
Underneath their dresses, some women wear full-length loose cotton trousers with tapered legs attached to narrow, tight-fitting cuffs, usually made of a more resilient material than the trousers. Cuffs can therefore be attached to another pair of trousers when the ‘uppers’ wear out. Some cuffs have intricate silk embroidery worked in parallel horizontal lines of chain stitch, ladder stitch and straight stitch, or in triangles and intertwined scrolls. Alternatively, metal thread, either gold or silver, is either laid on the ground fabric of the cuffs and couched with silk retaining stitches, or worked in long bullion knots in close parallel formation to form petals or flowers, sometimes with a spangle in the centre.
Metal thread is also used to decorate women’s headdresses. One type is like a shoulder-length loose hood of black cotton, embellished with gold or silver braid thread and beads and silver plaques. These are attached with long straight stitches. Occasionally the headdresses are also embroidered with neat straight rows of parallel goldwork thread stitches worked in zigzags.