Palestinian women guard identity through art of tatreez embroidery

Palestinian women guard identity through art of tatreez embroidery
Beaded dress, traditional dress of Palestine and Jordan

Traditional dress is more than just clothing; it's a way of expressing one's identity. Each item tells a tale, in addition to being able to identify the country/city a person belongs to. 


Palestinian traditional costume is made with the art of tatreez, a type of embroidery used to embellish the front and cuffs of a Palestinian thobe.



Tatreez, or Palestinian needlework, is one feature of clothing that is common in practically every city or town in the country.


The Palestinian thobe is the most well-known garment to have tatreez. The thobe, sometimes referred to as “malliaia,” is a long-sleeved, loose-fitting cloak that is produced by hand and embroidered with beautiful patterns and hues. Palestinian women employ the ancient skill of cross-stitching to create their garments, KUVRD reported. 


According to National Clothing, every city, town, or hamlet has a distinctive tatreez pattern. Pattern, color, embroidery style, fabric, and other characteristics vary. Europeans who travelled to Palestine in the 1800s and 1900s made remarks about the variety of attire the village women (also known as “fellaheen”) wore and made.


An elderly Palestinian woman is proficient in embroidery with woolen thread

An elderly Palestinian woman, 72 years old, is proficient in embroidery with woolen thread


Regional styles of female thobe

To personalize the clothes and make it distinctive to each tribe or region, various colors, fabrics, and cuts were employed.


According to Arab America, a wraparound cloth, a cloak, a scarf, and a shawl made up the national women's attire of Palestine. Palestinian women wore a variety of coats depending on the area of origin and they also featured various styles and ornamentation.

The primary clothing for women in the north was a front-opening coat in a vibrant color that could be plain (dura'ah) or embellished (jillayeh). Later (around the 1950s), the qumbaz, a coat with long sleeves and long side slits, took its place. They were worn over an ankle-length pair of trousers (elbas or sirwal/shirwal) and a long-sleeved shirt (qamis).


Women in southern villages wore thobes or jillayeh gowns rather than jackets and coats. Depending on the locale, colors could be either white or black. Long, plain-colored pants were worn underneath the gowns, either with white pants or later, European-styled fustans (dresses).


Palestinian women's traditional headdresses varied according on where they were born. An item with a flowery pattern known as “bushnika” was among the most well-liked and well-known. Over the bushnika, a shawl made of silk or wool was worn. In some regions of the country, married ladies wore tarbush, a red hat resembling an Ottoman fez and embellished with coins. Girls who were single frequently used a type of bonnet to hide their heads, National Clothing reported. 


Palestinian girl in national costume with beads and earrings


Thobe is an identity 

Jusoor Post talked with Dr. Sonya Abbas, head of the cultural committee at the General Union of Palestinian Women (GUPW) in Egypt, about the relation between the Palestinian traditional dress and the national identity. 


“The traditional dress worn by Palestinian women is not just an attire; it embodies the Palestinian heritage, civilization, history, and identity,” she said, adding, “It proves that Palestine is a land of civilization and the Palestinians are a people with history.” 


Abbas explained that the art of tatreez is inherited by Palestinian women from their ancestors. This art includes the surrounding environment, the land, the trees and the daily life with its colorful variations. 


“The embroidered dress in Jaffa has oranges, as the city is known for citrus. The shape of trees can be found in dresses of most Palestinian cities,” she added.


Abbas noted that the phoenix, a bird believed by the Canaanites to be burnt and reborn from ashes, is embroidered on some Palestinian tradition dresses. 


“In Bethlehem, traditional dresses are decorated with some Christian symbols. There is also the royal dress with golden embroidery,” she continued. 


Abbas told Jusoor Post that traditional dresses of Palestinian women in agricultural areas, unlike mountains, do not have much embroidery because women are busy farming and do not have much time for needlework.


Wedding dresses are known for vibrant colors and heavy embroidery.  


“In Beersheba, a desert area, the traditional dress is dark red with much embroidery and the face cover, ‘burkoa,’ is ornamented with metal pieces,” Abbas clarified, adding, “However, the widow wears a blue-embroidered dress.” 


She emphasized that people in the past were able to identify a woman and to which area she belongs based on her attire. 


“Nowadays, there are centers dedicated to preserve the Palestinian heritage and they have hundred-year-old Palestinian pieces,” she told Jusoor Post, referring also to the institutions whose main mission is to keep the art of tatreez in different fabrics alive. 


Abbas noted that the GUPW’s cultural committee in Egypt produces embroidered pieces, including shawls, dresses, purses, and others. 


Embroidery with woolen thread


“We are keen to keep embroidered pieces at our homes, and we love our girls to wear embroidered scarfs or shawls as part of keeping our heritage and history preserved,” she said. 


Abbas stated that the committee organizes tatreez courses every now and then to teach this art to new generations and Palestinian expats, who are very interested to the extent that they create new shapes and stitches. 


“This is one of our tools as Palestinian women to keep our identity and to defend our land and cause against the attempts by the Israeli authorities to steal the land and the identity,” she proudly told Jusoor Post. 


The art of Palestinian tatreez was added by UNESCO to the List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2022, Abbas said, adding, “This step is very important, as it emphasizes that the Palestinian heritage will be preserved until the end of time.” 


Contemporary twist 

Sagy Samaan, owner of Alrand, a family start-up business for Palestinian handmade embroidery, told Jusoor Post that his city of Ramallah uses black and red cross-stitching and special kinds of fabrics.


“In my business, I use the rural colorful embroidery. The Palestinian thobe is known for different stitches based on the regions,” he said, adding, “For instance, in Jaffa, the dress is known as ‘heaven and hell’ based on the used colors.” 


Samaan started his project during the Covid lockdown. He was trying to preserve the Palestinian identity in a contemporary context to keep reminding the new generations and to encourage them to wear part of their heritage. 


“The patterns used in my work are documented in books as Palestinian heritage. I may mix and max stitches from different cities as a modern twist,” he said.