Posted by Neveen Hammad on August 04, 2015 in Blog

Tatreez_Palstn.jpgWhen a Palestinian woman wears her thobe, or traditional Palestinian dress, she is displaying her heritage on her sleeves. Palestinian embroidery, or tatreez, is the artwork featured on each woman’s thobe, and the shapes and colors of the tatreez can be read to understand a woman’s background, heritage, and struggle.

Tatreez dates back to the 8th century CE, and the arrangement of colors and patterns typically indicate what village a woman is from. Although it is most often found on women’s thobe, this embroidery is also exhibited on pillowcases and other home accessories. Tatreez embroidery is typically created separately on small pieces of cloth then sown onto larger fabric pieces. Common tatreez designs include geometric shapes and elements of nature, including the sun, moon, stars, mountains, and water. This embroidery is a woman’s form of expression. If a woman from Hebron desires to have children, she would embroider a doll figure on her thobe. Women from the village of Beit Dajan often embroider orange blossoms because that village is known for its orange orchards.

Examining a woman’s thobe is to read about her roots. Certain fabric and thread colors can inform you where she is from, or at least where her thobe was made. While women in the Ramallah region mainly use red for their tatreez designs, which symbolizes life and happiness, other women in Hebron mainly use brown and reddish brown for their tatreez designs. Similarly, the way a woman uses certain colors and designs can tell you about her identity and skill.

Fabrics used to make a thobe include: linen, cotton, wool, and silk. These materials are either produced in Palestine or imported from Egypt, Syria, Europe, India, Damascus, Greece, or Turkey. A type of material used for traditional thobe dresses is referred to as malak, or “royal,” which is a linen material with a high percentage of silk and is predominately used for bridal dresses in Bethlehem.

Traditionally, only a few Palestinian families specialized in the production dyes – using their own secret recipes. Red dye was created from pomegranate skins or insects; the sumac plant was used to make yellow or green dye; purple was made from crushed murex shells; walnut skins were used to produce black dye; and grape leaves produced yellow dye. While indigo fabrics were popular among Bedouins, Biltajeh is a specific indigo-dyed cotton fabric with colored silk borders and is mainly used for dresses in cities along the coast of Palestine. Citizens of Ramallah and Beit Dajan villages prefer white linen and cotton fabrics.

Women in refugee camps in countries other than Palestine still maintain this tradition, which demonstrates that women play an integral role in preserving their ancestral roots, culture, and traditions despite difficult circumstances. Neither war, conflict, nor displacement is capable of erasing national identity, culture, or the ability for Palestinians to unite. Tatreez keeps the Palestinian heritage alive. Some Palestinian villages may be gone forever, but tatreez will last and preserve the Palestinian identity, which continues to be under constant threat.

Neveen Hammad is an intern with the Arab American Institute