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Table cover

Table cover

  • Place of origin:

    Iran (made)

  • Date:

    1876 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (designed and made by)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Woollen yarn, weaving, dyeing, embroidering

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Nasir al-Din Shah

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

The word sal in Persian is often translated as 'shawl', but in the 19th century it really meant any patterned woollen textile woven in twill. The fabric was not solely used as a wrap, it could be used as a hanging or cover or could be cut and made into a variety of garments.

The technique used to produce sal was fine tapestry-weaving, a slow process which resulted in costly products. By using a plain woollen twill called silsileh as the ground and working a richly embroidered design, it was possible to imitate the finer woven pieces. Such embroidered versions as this were less expensive and always in demand. This example, which was used as a table cover, was given to the Museum by Nasir al-Din Shah, Shah of Iran from 1848 to 1896.

Physical description

Woven wool twill embroidered with wool in straight stitches.
Red woollen twill. The sides are turned under and stitched. The upper edge is also turned under and stitched; the lower edge has 3 cm without weft and then a 2 cm band of plain weave, thus forming the loom-end of a length. This cover is made from three pieces joined together before being embroidered: two strips about 9.5 cm wide have been added, one along each side. This can only be clearly seen along the lower edge.
There is a circle in the middle and slightly more than half of this motif has been repeated half way down each of the four sides. In each corner is a long diagonally place boteh. The circles contain a central 8-pointed star. At each point there is a white outlined boteh and in each indentation there is a cypress tree. These are all enclosed in a frame forming points against the circular edge. Between the points if a green alternating with light blue, roundel which probably represents a carnation. The botehs are long with a long curling tip, alternate ones face left. Each contains a small cypress tree and two pairs of botehs. The most dominant feature is a stem which starts below the boteh, lies along its centre and then splits, curves up and out and down and terminates in a green round carnation.
There is a border along all four sides: small vertical cypress trees with leaning botehs either side. There is no definite upper edge to his border pattern - it seems to end suddenly and rather discordantly.
There is a narrow outer border edging in white. Meander with orange and red carnations and blue 6-petalled flowers.
Embroidery Threads: 2S-plied wool: orange, black, blue, green, white, dark red and dark blue.
Occasionally some under drawing can be seen. There are places on the ground that have been dyed purple and this is part of the pattern, creating areas of purple in the design.

Place of Origin

Iran (made)


1876 (made)


Unknown (designed and made by)

Materials and Techniques

Woollen yarn, weaving, dyeing, embroidering


Length: 118 cm, Width: 120 cm

Object history note

In 1877, Nasruddin Shah, the Qajar ruler of Iran, approved a donation of contemporary textiles and carpets to the South Kensington Museum. Organised via Robert Murdoch Smith and Qajar minister Emin al-Mulk, the donation consisted of 14 carpets and 60 other examples of textiles, and was directly intended to advertise Iran's textile industry to British consumers. The accompanying letter to the Museum's Lords of Committee outlined the strategy "We have no doubt whatever that the English Nation has always viewed our manufactures in a kind and friendly manner; and although the Persian Arts have not attained a high rank, nevertheless they have been viewed with a friendly eye and examined in a partial spirit. Such being the case, H.I.M. the Shah resolved that a small quantity of the produce of this country - manufactures by Persian workmen of the present day - should be presented to the said Museum."

Descriptive line

embroidered, 1800s, Persian

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Published in 'Iranian Textiles' by Jennifer Wearden and Patricia L Baker (V&A Publishing, 2010) plate 38.

Labels and date

The word 'sal' in Persian is often translated as 'shawl' but it really means any patterned woollen textile woven in twill; the fabric could be cut and made into garments and was not solely used as a wrap.
Fine tapestry-weaving is a slow process and its products are always costly, so less expensive, embroiderede versions of 'sal' designs were always in demand.
Murdoch Smith noted that the twill fabric used for these covers was called 'silsileh' and that it was often richly embroidered to imitate woven pieces. [2002]

Production Note

iran; Kerman




Weaving; Embroidering


Embroidery; Textiles; Eating


Middle East Section

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