Palestinian Folk Embroidery

By Hala Munther Salem


I was invited to an online Zoom meeting last week where Hala was giving a presentation about the textiles of her homeland.

Hala lives in Gaza in Palenstine, and is 15 years old she is part of a project called the Hands up Project which works with children in Palestine and Syria. Using the art of storytelling the children are taught to communicate and share stories. The group meet using the World Storytelling Café as an online stage.

The article below is as Hala wrote it. It is in her second language and filled with passion for the traditions of her country. I hope you will enjoy reading. I am astounded by this smart and bright girl and her drive to reach an audience around the world to share her love of the material culture of her home. I hope that Hala will agree to write for us again in the future.

Palestinian Folk Embroidery…

The art of embroidery is one of the Palestinian folklore inherited over the generations, and which have evolved with the passage of time into a craft. She became a source of livelihood for a large group of women in Palestine. As it has features that are compatible with the social and economic environment of the Palestinian society. This development was accompanied by the creation of new models with high aesthetic values ​​inspired by the originality of this craft.

The Palestinian woman, especially the rural woman, was known for her mastery of the art of needlework. So I used it in many areas of life; As she decorated her home, her dress and her special tools with it; Its drawings, decorations and colors are inspired by the nature of its country and its local environment; That is why we see Palestinian embroidery differs from one region to another in coordinating colors and drawings. Each geographical region has its own elements, components, and decorative formations that are derived from and appropriate to it.

It is difficult for the researcher to date the art of Palestinian embroidery for various reasons, the most important of which is that fabrics and threads wear out with the passage of time. They cannot resist the elements of nature. That is why it is rare to find samples of Palestinian embroidery dating back to the pre-nineteenth century.

The distinguished location of Palestine at the crossroads leading to Europe, Asia and Africa played an important role in enriching this rich heritage. In addition to the successive civilizations on the region from the Canaanite, Jebusite, and Amorite civilizations; And the many invasions that took place on this land.

Embroidery with its drawings and types has undergone fundamental changes over time. As we find in the nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth century that the patterns and drawings of the embroidery were primarily geometric in shape; In the thirties of the last century, new influences began to appear that changed the specificity of traditional embroidery, such as embroidery threads manufactured in Europe, which were accompanied by manuals for Western embroidery, and all found their way to the Palestinian markets, so Western drawings such as flowers, birds and animals leaked into the traditional women’s dresses. This was evident in the 1950s and continues to this day.

Villages of Palestinian women knew from their garments in the past; After the drawings and colors depicted on them are examined; The decorative units on the garment were an important indication of the identity of the village or region. The woman knows these drawings well, and inherits this information from her mother and grandmother. She begins to learn the art of embroidery at an early age; So instilled in it is the necessity to transfer the drawings of her village on her clothes. Just as the woman was the trustee in transmitting the heritage of her village, she was creative in changing her embroidery, so she acquired traditional drawings from her own taste, without prejudice to the basic structure of the training.

 Although these changes were minor; However, it gave the dresses a renewed elegance. Another factor influenced the evolution of traditional graphics: It is the intermarriage between the children of different parts of Palestine. As women moved with their husbands to other villages or other areas, they moved with them some of the drawings of their original villages to their new villages or vice versa, and put them on their dresses.

The development of transportation means, such as trains and buses, has also encouraged the people of Palestine to travel and visit. This made women closely see other imperfections in other regions. What contributed to the exchange of embroidery drawings; Palestinian women, like other women, want to renew and create an aesthetic world in their clothes and decorations.

Although renewal and change were always apparent, some drawings remained limited to their specific geographical locations. For example, the Ramallah area was known for its use of the palm tree painting. And the Hebron region, in what is called Tent Al-Basha; And the area of ​​Jaffa, painted with cypress and a base; And the Gaza area, with a pillow or scissors pattern; As for Beersheba and its region, it was known for its use of the screening drawing. Although such drawings may distinguish one region from another, we also find them in multiple shapes and different combinations spread all over Palestine.

As for the arrangement of embroidery on the garment, it was not random; It is thoughtful and covers four main parts of the garment:

1- The dome: it is the closest piece to the face. Its linguistic origin is the qib, which is what is included in the shirt pocket in the patches. But it means in the Palestinian dialect (the collar of the dress).

 2- The cape: It is the lower back part of the garment. Its linguistic origin is (tail) and its plural is tails, i.e. what is pulled from a garment if it sails.

3- Al-Baneeqa: It is the aspect of the garment and its linguistic origin is the Buniqa.

4- The sleeve: it is the entrance to and exit of the hand from the garment.

 Types of fabric: traditional embroidery was performed on locally hand-woven linen cloth called “rumi” or “monastic” – or on a fabric that was a mixture of linen and cotton, sometimes called “karoui”; Or on specially woven cotton fabric to make it easy to count the threads and show the stitch clearly

. The threads used in embroidery are of four varieties:

1- Silk thread: The most expensive and heaviest thread. The embroidered dress weighs eight kilograms and is only worn during ceremonies.

2- Cotton thread: It is embroidered on all kinds of clothes, and it is cheap, but some cotton threads fade and some colors fall on the colors of others.

3- The brocade thread: In northern Palestine, they embroider the jacket and shortening, and in the white Dajani dress it is embroidered on the top of the chest and the violin on velvet fabric.

4- Machine thread: Embroidered on Satin fabric only, by machine. This thread is also used to connect the parts of the garment to each other, and they are embroidered on the seam with a silk thread.

 Distributions of embroidery and its main areas: There is no doubt that Palestinian embroidery is widespread in all regions, villages and cities of Palestine. There are common features that unite all Palestinian dresses in all regions, in terms of the use of specific colors or shapes; While each region retains other features that distinguish it from other regions. And sometimes it distinguishes one village from another; And from the same region for its neighbors from the villages with their own symbols. We can say that there are six main areas in Palestine that are distinguished among them in terms of the specificity of embroidery, and other cities and villages branch out from them that also have their own peculiarities among themselves, namely:

1- The Jerusalem area: Ramallah and Bethlehem are subdivided from it.

 2- Hebron area.

3- The North Region: It branches out from the Acre region – Safad – Tiberias.

4- Beersheba region: it branches out from North Sinai.

5- The Jaffa region: Ashdod – Sarafand – Beit Dajan – Al Safriya – Yazur – Yabna branches branch out from it.

 6- The Gaza region: Al-Majdal – Harbia – Beit Lahia – Deir Al-Balah – Khan Yunis.

Characteristics of Palestinian embroidery art

 1- The work clothes are less decorative than the dress of the seasons and occasions.

2- Unmarried girls are not allowed to wear decorative colors except for kohl. Therefore, they compensated for this by decorating their clothes in bright colors.

3- Traditions dictate that every girl embroider her clothes on her own.

4- The thicker the thread, its luster, and the decorated area on the garment, the greater its aesthetic and material value.

 5- The decorations of older women are less decorated than girls ’clothes, and they must be of thick fabric, with dark colors and the floor is often black. Or dark purple or beige color; In addition, the colors of its decorative units are dark and are called (the colors of modesty), meaning “solemnity”.

6- The decoration (embroidery) was limited to women’s clothes, starting with the Islamic conquest.

The Palestinian decorative units bear mythological, historical, astronomical, and geographic folk symbols, as well as symbols associated with the land, greenery and birds that have continued until now As a sign of identity and historical existence.

The stitch is known in the popular Palestinian dialect as “qutbah,” and it is the basis that ultimately gives the general shape of the embroidered decorative units. Among the most popular stitches used are:

Sclerotherapy 1-

Tide 2-

Teething  3-

Editorial 4-

Machine stitching 5-

The silk planting stitch  6-

  7- Spinal

 Twisting 8-

9- The planting

10- Zigzag.

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