Once a traditional craft practiced by village women, Palestinian embroidery has become an important symbol of Palestinian culture & identity. A rich artistic tradition passed down through generations, it is now common in all of Palestine & among members of the diaspora.
Palestinian embroidery is also known as Tatreez. In 2021, the United Nations’ cultural agency (UNESCO) added the art of Palestinian embroidery, or tatreez in Arabic, to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Tatreez is an ancient embroidery technique that dates back to the Canaanite era (people who lived in the Arab region, 3,000 years ago). It has been used for centuries by Palestinians - with different colours and patterns symbolising social & community status.
Palestinian embroidery is a rich artistic tradition that has been passed down by mothers to their daughter through generations. Designs vary from village to village. The main techniques used in Palestine are cross-stitch and couching stitch.
Although the Palestinian cultural landscape has changed dramatically in the last 50 years, Palestinian tatreez embroidery has remained a vibrant handicraft. For many Palestinians, it is a familiar reminder of Palestine in the days of their grandparents or great grandparents.
The inherited patterns and colors are often used to identify where either or both the wearer and maker are from. Integral to this unique and delicate craft is the understanding that tatreez represents the identity of Palestine and its people.
So each tatreez piece tells the person's story and history using nothing but thread, needle, and colour.
Here, Levantine motifs are understood as functions of matrilineal Palestinian cultural heritage, while also reflecting trade routes and textile and dye developments.
The traditional patterns used in tatreez—which are geometric in shape—also include impressions of daily surroundings indicative of a maker’s geographic location. Tatreez is a form of collective memory making.
Cross-stitch, 'fallahi (farmers’)’ embroidery is the most renowned of Palestinian embroidery tecuniques. The embroidery took on its name because cross-stitch was the craft of village women, widely practiced from the south through the central region of Palestine.
Palestinian cross-stitch is known for its richness of colors and texture, as well as a vast number of traditional motifs that vary from a region to another.
Palestinian embroidery includes a wide array of techniques like manajel (connecting stitch), tashreem (patchwork), and jadleh (hemming stitch). While less known than the popular cross-stitch, these stitches called for more complex skills.
The threads used in tatreez are usually cotton or silk thread. Silk threads are used for thobes that will be used for significant events such as weddings, while cotton threads are used for everyday work thobes.
Women intricately embellish dresses, jackets, cushions, tablecloths and pillows made from natural hand dyed and woven materials. However, dresses have always been the most common embroidered items.
Women’s village clothing usually consists of a long dress, trousers, a jacket, a headdress and a veil. Each of these garments is embroidered with a variety of symbols including birds, trees and flowers.
The choice of colours & designs indicates the woman’s regional identity and marital and economic status. On the main garment, the loose-fitting dress called a thobe, the chest, sleeves and cuffs are covered with embroidery.
Dresses for everyday use are embroidered with silk while dresses for special occasions use golden or silver threads. Traditional wedding dresses include layers of embroidered material, embellished with coral beads and golden or silver coins.
The materials used indicate the financial and social standing of the family as well as their place of origin. Because the work is time-consuming, historic embroidered pieces of worn out articles are often cut out and used to embellish smaller items.
After the Palestinian Nakba in 1948, when more than 700,000 people were expelled from their homes across Palestine, the art became a symbol of displacement and resistance.
Women wore their thobes (traditional embroidered dresses) or carried them on their backs as a statement of the very ‘existence’ of the villages they had been expelled from. The traditional embroidery skills continue to be passed down and preserved.
Historically, tatreez patterns varied from village to village because of limited transportation. But after 1948, when people from different areas started living together in refugee camps, the distinctions began to fade.
The art still plays an important role in the Palestinian diaspora, as fashion designers and artists seek to keep the tradition alive, or reinvent it altogether.
Organisations like The Thobe Project based in the USA, continue to educate and teach tatreez skills across the diaspora. Here are some scenes from previous workshops that led to a lot of learning, story-telling, and joy in community with great people.
Tatreez is not just decoration, but a language of symbols, rich in colour and texture. Tatreez serves as a means of unifying all of Palestinians, woven together in their love for their country, their honor of their heritage & their dedication to preserve their ancient culture.
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