The Palestinian Dress
Textile arts have been of unique importance in the Middle East since antiquity. In every age, the crafts of spinning, weaving, dyeing and embroidery have been held in high esteem and their traditions have changed relatively little over time. This is demonstrated eloquently in Palestinian costume styles, which have remained virtually unchanged over many centuries.
Around 1500 BC, the land that would later be called Palestine became known as Canaan, “The Land of the Purple.” Its Semitic inhabitants decorated linen and woolen cloth with a precious purple dye extracted from murex sea-snails, and these textiles were prized trade items around the Mediterranean.
In Palestine, the traditional style was itself influenced by the important nearby textile centers of Syria, famous for their silk weaving since the fifth century. Syrian fabrics were used in many Palestinian costumes, and Syrian traditional dresses share a similar repertoire of motifs with their Palestinian counterparts. The influence of the Arabian Peninsula is seen in the ornate silver jewelry brought in by trade and incorporated into the Palestinian costume.
Although the influences on Palestinian costumes have been numerous, the end result is a legacy that is uniquely and distinctly Palestinian, transcending its role as an art form to become a symbol of Palestinian identity. The ancient embroidered patterns bore symbols of hope, prosperity, good health and protection, and had traditional names that reflected natural features: the moon, the cypress tree, the tree of life, Bethlehem Shatweh, 1900 the bird of paradise. Though every woman could express her creativity by her choice of patterns and their arrangement on the dress, each region of Palestine followed its own distinctive stylistic rules.
Embroidery of costume and home accessories was done—and still is done—by women who preserved the traditional patterns by copying older dresses. In so doing they created costumes of lasting beauty that have earned a special place among the ethnic folk dress traditions of the world. More significantly, this tradition of Palestinian needlework has kept alive ancient styles and symbols that have provided us with a unique window to the past.Photo:
The Naqab Region
Dresses worn by the Bedouins in the Naqab desert are similar in shape to those in other villages. Bedouin dresses are A-shaped roomy, with pointed sleeves called irdan. The fabric of early Bedouin dresses were made of blue cotton that was later replaced with black cotton fabric called (tubayt), similar to that worn by Galilee Bedouins.
In the early twentieth century, Bedouin dresses had little or no embroidery, but, with the advent of cotton thread in the 1930’s, dresses became richly embroidered with cross-stitch using geometric patterns similar to the village embroidery.
The chest piece was embroidered on a separate piece of cloth then stitched to the dress. The sleeves, side panels, back panel were embroidered on the fabric. The front of a Bedouin dress was also embroidered, something never found in village dresses. Also, distinct to this area’s dresses is the line of satin-stitch arou
Bedouin dresses are predominantly embroidered in red color. Marital status of the Bedouin women determined the color of the embroidery. Married women wore dresses embroidered in red and unmarried women embroidered in blue.
In the hills east of Bethlehem Bedouins wore an enormously long dress unique to tribes such as the Ta’amreh and Obaidiyyeh. The dress had a very long pointed sleeves and its size was attributed to comfort.
The embroidered motifs were unique to this area and included geometric patterns that predated European copy-book designs. Such patterns included diamond shapes, stars, diagonal cross patterns, branches and vertical zig-zag patterns. Diagonal cross patterns were also found on Bedouin festive veils.Written By Hanan Karaman MunayyerTHANK YOU TO THE PALESTINIAN HERITAGE FOUNDATION