1 May

World Cultures: Palestinian Thobes and Tatreez

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Thomas Jang and Phoebe Hill

Thobe (ثَوْب) is an Arabic word for “garment.” It is worn by men and women throughout the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant. In Palestine, located between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, thobes are traditional dresses worn by women as well as a primary vehicle for cultural and artistic expression. They are adorned with intricate and colorful embroidery known as tatreez. This embroidery tradition has been practiced and passed through generations since the 11th century. 

Tatreez is a Palestinian embroidery practice, added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity List in 2021. Rural women across Palestine have traditionally engaged in the craft, with different towns and villages developing unique colors and styles. Various symbols embroidered into clothing indicate religious identity, marriage status, or local history, allowing clothing to act as a powerful tool for communication. 

In thobes worn daily, cotton threads are used, whereas thobes worn for weddings are woven with silk threads in gold or silver. In addition, wedding thobes are accompanied with coral beads and golden or silver coins. Among Palestinian villages and communities, the thobes were the main dress worn by women, who also wore a headdress and veil. Likewise, the specific colors also represent the wearer’s marital status and economic status. 

Thobes embroidered with tatreez have been widely used in all aspects of life. They can be worn for both everyday work and special occasions such as weddings. The tatreez that is embroidered on thobes is influenced by the community the maker and wearer come from. Thus, the tradition of tatreez has tied communities together, just as the threads used weave together beautiful designs representing birds, flowers, or trees unique to each part of Palestine. Various shades of colors, combined with these symbols, indicate the wearer’s home. In Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Jerusalem, deep red fabrics were used. In the southwest, in Gaza, bright red fabrics were used. Moreover, weavers in Hebron, in what is the current-day West Bank, deep brown fabrics are used. In Jaffa, a major hub for journalism in pre-Nakba Palestine and the namesake for its renowned orange orchards, orange fabric is used to help recreate oranges and orange trees within the tatreez.  

Today, mechanization, changing clothing styles, and, unfortunately, Palestinian mass displacement threaten the practice. The intimate connection to land and history which once contributed to the sheer diversity in embroidery designs has been eroded following the mass displacement of Palestinians in the Nakba (1948) and, two decades later, the Naksa (1967). As communities lost their sense of place, so the practice of tatreez has homogenized, speaking to the violence of displacement. However, the significance of tatreez and Palestinian cultural practices grew following the First Intifada (1987-1993), one of two major uprisings by the Palestinian resistance against violence and apartheid committed by settlers and the Israeli government.

Since 2014, July 25th has been celebrated around the world as Palestinian Costume Day, where people in Palestine and within the diaspora persevere and continue to represent their culture and identity through clothing and resistance against displacement, colonization, and violence.

Sources:

The Art of Tatreez: Palestinian Embroidery

Celebrating Palestinian Costume Day: A Look At Traditional Dress

Traditional Embroidery: A Brief History of Palestinian Tatreez

Tatreez and the Palestinian Thobe