Palestinian embroidery has a long tradition, and is an important part of the Palestinian cultural identity. Traditional Palestinian cloth articles, in the form of women’s dresses, tablecloths, pillow cases, table runners, bed spreads and other similar items, are made of various color cloth materials embroidered by hand.
Village women embroidering in locally-distinctive styles was a tradition that was at its height in Ottoman-ruled Palestine. Women would sew in items to represent their heritage, ancestry, and affiliations. Longstanding traditions of embroidery were found in the Upper and Lower Galilee, in the Judean Hills and on the coastal plain.
Girls would begin producing embroidered garments, a skill generally passed to them by their grandmothers, beginning at the age of seven. New styles began to appear the 1960s. For example the “six-branched dress” named after the six wide bands of embroidery running down from the waist. These styles came from the refugee camps, particularly after 1967. Income generating projects in the refugee camps and in the Occupied Territories began to use embroidery motifs on non-clothing items such as accessories, bags and purses.
Palestinian embroidery did not, with rare exceptions, include patterns with any religious symbols. While the majority of Palestinians are Muslims, there has been no obvious Islamic representations in embroidery as there has been in other forms of art such as calligraphy. Because Christian minorities in Palestine have enjoyed essentially full societal partnership with the Muslim majority, Christian minorities did not find it necessary nor desirable to separate themselves from their Muslim brothers as did Christians in some other Arab countries, nor deliberately make themselves stand out as non-Muslims.
In the Palestinian society, religion was a private matter between ‘man and his God’. A phrase which was very popular in the Palestinian society during all of the 20th century was “Religion is for God, but the country is for everyone” (Aldeenu Lillah Walwatan Liljamee’) which meant that no one wanted the differences in religious beliefs to impact societal relations among Palestinians. Therefore, Palestinian Christians and Muslims did not use embroidery as a form of public display to separate them from each other.
Stich by stitch, Palestinian women continue to preserve the art of embroidery. It’s much more than just sewing and stitching. It’s keeping Palestine by their side, in every stitch.
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