Palestinian embroidery is one way the world’s most displaced people are keeping their culture alive
By Thaslima Begum
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 Palestinian embroidery, and the culture that created it, is now under serious threat. 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 handcrafted tatreez. That is, 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.
Occupation Means No Occupations
According to the International Labour Organization, Israel’s ongoing occupation has resulted in disaster. Palestinians suffer high unemployment, insufficient income, restricted movement and the under-representation of women in the labour market.
For example, Noura Mustafa, age 23, is a fashion design graduate from Jerusalem. She explained to me 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, Palestinian embroidery continues to act as an intricate expression of cultural perseverance. It’s a kind of woven communication across time. It’s a material 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 for. That is, 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 that empower women through their passion for traditional Palestinian embroidery.
Fashion Brands Maintaining Palestinian Tatreez
1. SEP Jordan
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. But they don’t just make fashion! They supply gorgeous home accessories, too.
2. Dar Noora
This is another Palestinian fashion brand that focuses on embroidery and beautiful textiles.
Founder Noora Khalifeh was inspired to create Dar Noora by her father’s souvenir shop in the Old City of Al-Quds. Dar Noora is testament to the sights, sounds, and experiences Noora revelled in as a child.
Dar Noora works with local Palestinian women in Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem. They all painstakingly hand stitch the needlework – and even crystals – on each piece. “There is a rich opportunity to open and expand a uniquely Palestinian fashion industry,” Noora said to Vogue Arabia. “It would counter the typically foreign-imposed model of economic development and empowerment with an organic, home-grown alternative, that stands to create jobs in which Palestinians would take great pride.”
Palestinian fashion designer Ayah Tabari runs Mochi. This is a well-loved label that infuses fashion with the best of traditional ethnic crafts from around the world. Of course, Ayah supports Palestinian embroidery as often as possible. For example, Mochi’s ‘Palestine’ celebrates the incredible artisanship of the region. It features contemporary shapes modified with colourful traditional embroidery.
Tabari also 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 one of the most delightful Palestinian embroidery brands for shoes! They also feature a capsule collection of other Palestinian embroidered accessories. Each piece is hand-stitched by talented artisans in Hebron, one of the most oppressed parts of Palestine. And all artisans receive a fair wage. In fact, 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.
Do you know of any other Palestinian embroidery brands we missed? Let us know in the comments, below. We’d love to promote them!
Main and second image: Sep Jordan