UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage:

Weaving and embroidery in Palestine

Henna nights

Embroidery is a preserver of identity for the women of Palestine. To this day, embroidery is produced and practiced as a craft in many Palestinian households. Sometimes as a hobby and in some households as the primary source of income for the family. Embroidery and weaving are dominant in the Palestinian heritage because both have been used for ceremonial and functional purposes over the years. Some women embroider dresses and fashion pieces to be used in modern ceremonial events like Henna Nights (Henna is a night for women only, which takes place a day or two before the wedding night). It is a traditional practice where women wear their traditional Palestinian dress (thobes) and celebrate the bride-to-be. You might compare it to the bachelorette parties in the West.

In Palestinian embroidery, colors are very important, and the most dominant color is red, or shades of red. This color is a sign of happiness and joy, whereas blue is used in times of grief. The use of the colors blue and green symbolizes paradise. The abundance of the embroidery demonstrates wealth.

The Coins Headdress

The headdress or hat worn on a woman’s wedding day is particularly important. It differs from one region to another. Headdresses in places like Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Hebron are the most distinguished and show wealth. Of these, hats from Hebron are considered the most expensive. It is a tradition that wealthy families lend them to people who cannot afford one for their wedding day. The Hebron wedding headdress is called Weqyet Al-Darahem (‘The Coins Headdress’) and is adorned by beautiful rich embroidery and full of silver and gold coins.

Uniquely, the Palestinian dress is designed and adorned by the women themselves. The dress design contains information about the status and identity of the person who wears it. One of the ‘stories’ a dress design tells us is whether the woman is a town dweller, a villager, or a Bedouin. It also tells us from which region she comes.

In Bethlehem, couching embroidery was influenced by the West, and the cross stitch was influenced by the Sarma dress of the Ottoman period. Palestinian women developed other techniques using cross stitch, half stitch, and full stitch.

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The craft of weaving textiles was widely spread all over the country before 1948. The main weaving cities were Safad, Nazareth, Galilee, Nablus, Beit Jala, Hebron, and Gaza, with their Majdal weave, which originates from the village of Al-Majdal Asqalan (Ashkelon). Palestine counted over 300 weavers in those days, but almost all have gone today. However, in very small quantities, weaving carpets by hand is still being practiced in areas like Hebron, Bethlehem, and Gaza.

This traditional practice goes as follows. In springtime, the wool is gathered from sheep, and the process of segmenting and cleaning the wool starts. Then wool is provided to various village women to start the spinning process.

After spinning, the wool is gathered where the weaving will occur, and the wool’s dying (coloring) process starts. In the past, dying was done using vegetable dyes, but nowadays, dye is imported from countries like Turkey and India.

The last step in the process is weaving the carpet using a loom. In doing so, the weavers can either select traditional colors and designs or choose a more personal input. Most weavers used to select the first option.

Marriage

Carpets were traditionally made for brides and grooms to celebrate their marriage. After that, the carpets would be used on special family occasions. It was customary for the carpet owner to be carried in during their burial. Subsequently, the rug would be donated to the village mosque as a charity to whoever would need it.

As mentioned, Palestinian embroidery’s glory and artisanal strength declined after 1948. One major reason was the 1948 war with Israel. Others are the limited availability of the material used for the dresses and the time needed to produce these unique pieces. If we compare today’s Palestinian embroidery with the pre-1948 period, we see a massive gap in quality, stitches, creativity, colors, and design. Women of Palestine used to be naturally creative artisanal embroiderers without any reference to books or tutorials. They would gather in circles, each competing in embroidering her masterpiece. They took their inspiration from their natural surroundings and could be creative and different because they practiced their hobbies in peaceful, flourishing times.

UNESCO

In an important event for Palestine culture, UNESCO inscribed ‘the art of embroidery in Palestine, practices, skills, knowledge, and rituals’ on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2021.

By doing so, it rightfully documented that this valued cultural tradition, which dates back 3000 years, should be continued and celebrated by all Palestinians. Palestinians are very proud of their embroidery and one can see it represented in every house in Palestine and outside of it.

It is a unique and precious gift for visitors to be taken back home. Many places in Palestine sell Palestinian embroidery in the form of personal items or home accessories. Please visit them and share our cultural richesse. You’ll be surprised – and delighted.

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Dar Al-Tifel Museum: a must-visit destination

When in Jerusalem, check the Dar Al-Tifel Museum, established by the late Ms. Hind Husseini in 1962. It shows the art of embroidery through a unique collection of Palestinian Embroidery and Kilims weaved in Palestine. The Dar Al-Tifel Museum is situated just behind the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem. It features a collection of Palestinian embroidery dresses that are over 100 years old, exhibited in a building with old Mamluk-style architecture. The late Ms. Husseini established the museum to educate the world and the local community for generations to come about the rich ancient Palestinian art and traditional heritage.

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