By Thaslima Begum
Traditional embroidery has long played a critical role in shaping historic and contemporary Palestinian culture. In pre-1948 Palestine, richly embroidered handmade garments were a proud expression of regional identity. Women created garments with a distinctive flair that immediately established the wearer’s origin. For those well-versed in the regional variations of embroidery style, pattern and colour, a quick glance was enough to determine the wearer’s region or village. But this art, and the culture that created it, is under serious threat after over 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes in 1948. Since then, many became refugees in their own land whilst others fled to neighbouring countries including Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Today the number of Palestinian refugees exceeds 5 million.
Yet traditional embroidery continues to serve its role in the preservation of the Palestinian identity. In every Palestinian home, you will find framed pieces of beautifully hand-crafted tatreez – the unification of contrasting colours and patterns, entwined with a delicate piece of thread to create a lifelong masterpiece.
Carefully curated pieces hang along dimly lit hallways; a passage that transports you to a particular moment in time. The commemoration of a dead relative, a demolished home, an uprooted olive tree. A memoir of motifs with tales told through thread – each cross-stitch tells a story.
According to the International Labour Organization, Israel’s ongoing occupation has resulted in high unemployment, insufficient income, restricted movement and the under-representation of women in the labour market.
Noura Mustafa, age 23, a fashion design graduate from Jerusalem explains that she recently lost her job after Israeli forces shut down the factory she worked in. Inspired by traditional Palestinian embroidery, Noura wants to use old cross-stitch techniques to create more contemporary designs. Her dream is to one day visit Paris and be able to showcase her cultural heritage to the world.
For women like Noura, embroidery continues to act as an intricate expression of Palestinian perseverance; a kind-of-woven communication across time and a means of preserving the rich traditions of the Palestinian people.
For a younger generation, it represents something many have never fully experienced but desperately yearn – a true sense of belonging. At a time when the Palestinian identity hangs by a thread, the continued practice of traditional hand-stitched embroidery is both a statement of existence and an act of resistance.
Today, as we stand together #WithRefugees by honouring the courage and resilience of millions around the world, we take a look at some of our favourite ‘socially conscious’ brands who empower women through their passion for traditional Palestinian embroidery.
Operating from Jordan’s Gaza Refugee Camp, SEP’s hand-embroidered accessories blend hallmarks of premium Palestinian craftsmanship with high-end design. SEP creates one-of-a-kind accessories that are distinguished by their intricate embroidery, geometric patterns and a sophisticated style that breathes new life into mainstream staples.
Palestinian fashion designer Ayah Tabari runs Mochi, a label that infuses fashion with the best of traditional ethnic crafts from around the world. Mochi’s ‘Palestine’ collection, for example, celebrates the incredible artisanship of the region, with contemporary shapes modified with colourful traditional embroidery. Of course, through Mochi, Tabari strives to expose, elevate, and enrich the lives of local artisans wherever she derives her inspiration, showcasing the talent and craftsmanship of the communities she works with.
This is a delightful capsule collection of Palestinian embroidered products, hand-stitched by talented artisans in Hebron, one of the most oppressed parts of Palestine. Darzah’s mission is to create economic opportunities for refugee and low-income women by connecting women around the world through the story of tatreez embroidery.
An ethical luxury fashion label that fuses artisan textiles with fashion-forward designs to create inspired handmade apparel, Symbology employs women from the West Bank to apply Palestinian weaving techniques in order to preserve traditional art forms in every garment.
Main image: OmarJoseph Nasser-Khoury and Tarek Moukaddem