Threads of identity: tatreez, the handcrafted Palestinian embroidery that is more than clothing

BIRZEIT, West Bank — Like layers of history, the handcrafted Palestinian embroidery known as tatreez, traditionally used to adorn Palestinian clothing, speaks of lost villages, abandoned old customs, past lives and survival.

The designs once functioned almost like an identification card. The rooster, an ancient Christian symbol, indicated the faith of the wearer. A red bird on a blue linen tunic worn by widows meant that the woman was ready to remarry. An image of a particular plant or fruit suggested the origin of the garment, such as orange blossoms that adorned the robes of Jaffa or cypresses on those of Hebron.

“The embroidery of each city has a special characteristic”said Baha Jubeh, conservation and collections manager at the Palestinian Museum in Birzeit, standing among a row of these dresses, known as thobes, some of which date back more than a century. “But all together they combine to create a historic Palestinian identity.”

In 2021, UNESCO added tatreez to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, recognizing it as “a widespread social and intergenerational practice in Palestine.”

But like other indigenous crafts, it faces threats, including mechanization and the abandonment of ancient styles. There is now a push to revive it in younger generations, including plans to reintroduce embroidery into Palestinian schools, include it in school uniforms and open an academy in the Israeli-occupied West Bank dedicated to the craft.

Historically, Palestinian embroidery was taught at home and passed down from generation to generation. Decades ago, the thobe was an everyday item worn and made mainly by rural women. Their colors and designs were extracted from the plants and animals that surrounded them.

In 1948, around 700,000 Palestinians were forced to flee their homes in the war surrounding the creation of Israel, a period Palestinians call nakba, or catastrophe. Most ended up in refugee camps in neighboring countries and throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Many women had to become breadwinners for their families and dedicated themselves to embroidery. But the designs and colors became more homogenized. Now thobes are worn only on special occasions.

At the Surif Women’s Cooperative, in a small village on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Hebron, Halima Fareed, 58, put the finishing touches on a green and black embroidered pillowcase. Around the edges were small cypress trees that looked like the tall cypress outside the coop.

It is one of the few local symbols that the cooperative, which makes embroidered household items but not thobes, still retains in its designs.


BBC-NEWS-SRC:, IMPORTING DATE: 2023-09-13 19:50:08

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