The Art of Tatreez: Palestine's Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow | Savoir Flair

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Palestine
The Art of Tatreez: Palestine's Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
article GETTY IMAGES
by Mimi Droeshout 6-minute read November 1, 2023

Discover the rich tapestry of Tatreez, a centuries-old Palestinian embroidery art form that weaves together stories of identity, resilience, and cultural heritage. 

article @TATREEZANDTEA

Palestinian embroidery, or tatreez (تطريز) is a centuries-old art form passed down through generations, bringing to life the stories of the wearer and the maker. It has been an important political and economic tool for women throughout the history of the Palestinian struggle for liberation and has allowed women to play an essential role in resistance against occupation, apartheid, and injustice. Gaining international recognition from UNESCO in 2021 as an integral part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list, tatreez is a deeply embedded cultural expression that tells tales of identity, shared histories, and collective experiences. With each stitch, it narrates stories that transcend generations; a mosaic of Palestinian society.

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Tracing its origins to the Canaanites nearly 3,000 years ago, tatreez has been crafted through a range of techniques, with the cross-stitch method, known as quṭbah fallāḥiyyah, standing out as the most commonly used and emblematic of Palestinian heritage. The variety seen in tatreez is usually a signifier to the village the maker was from, with the Palestinian landscape being its pillar of inspiration.

As an art form that has been taught and passed down throughout generations, tatreez requires a dedicated amount of skill and patience, not only in technique but in the deep and personal meaning of each and every stitch. Some complex designs can take over a year to complete from start to finish.

A piece of tatreez, usually a gift, is given from an elder mother, aunt, or grandmother to a young girl, which would hold significance to her identity. Traditionally, tatreez sessions were not just about crafting intricate embroideries but also served as generational classrooms where wisdom, life stories, and skills were passed down from grandmothers and mothers to daughters, who begin learning the craft around the age of six. In the wake of displacement and the scattering of communities, however, these sessions have transformed into powerful spaces for women to discuss their identities and histories, thereby reflecting the shifting societal roles and enduring value of tatreez. The patterns, colors, and quality of the dress reflected a woman’s social standing, marital status, and wealth. A symbol of the traditional rural lifestyle of Palestine, much of which was lost after the 1948 Nakba, embroidery was the principal decoration of rural women’s clothing. It was part of a village woman’s daily routine and a means of showing off her personal skills and social identity. A piece of history, using nothing but thread, needle, and color. 

@TATREEZANDTEA

In the intricate tapestry of tatreez, symbolism acts as a nuanced language, its lexicon varying distinctly from one Palestinian village to another. At the time, the lack of transportation and travel made each motif an area-specific narrative, often signaling life milestones such as weddings or pregnancies. The geometry of these stitches usually captured localized flora like cypress trees (sarū), the palm tree (nakhleh), and the S-shaped leech (ullayq). The use of fruits and vegetables of the makers' village were other signifiers, as well as more universally recognized symbols of the moon and eyes to signify well-being, wealth, and protection. 

The absence of religious motifs in tatreez — despite its rich tapestry of identity markers — is a testament to the landscape of Palestine, where people of various faiths coexisted harmoniously, making overt symbols of religious affiliation superfluous in the realm of tatreez. A rich palette of colors serves as a coded indication of life stages — for instance, young women in Hebron (Al-Khalil) wore green, while purple was reserved for older women. The hues employed in the embroidery also spoke to regional variances, highlighting the profound locality embedded in each thread: in Ramallah, a vivid red shade was predominantly used, whereas in Al-Khalil, a more subdued, brownish-red was the norm. The red dye was produced by using native plants like Indian madder and insects like kermes and cochineal.

UNRWA

In the 1960s, following the Nakba, tatreez underwent a transformation. Impacted by the economic and political restrictions of the time, particularly in refugee camps, artisans began using more affordable cotton and adopting machine embroidery techniques. The camps brought together displaced Palestinians from various villages, cities, and regions, leading to the emergence of a homogenized pattern which combined regional styles from across the country.

@TATREEZANDTEA

In 1967, immediately following the Six-Day War, the State of Israel banned the Palestinian flag across the occupied territories. Later, a 1980 law banned artwork of "political significance" (anything composed of its four colors). Palestinians were arrested for displaying anything with visible markers of Palestinian identity, like the national flag, which would have been confiscated by the Israeli army. 

The political and social weight further intensified during the First Intifada, a period of Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation from 1987 until 1993. In an act of quiet but unyielding defiance, Palestinian women began creating what became known as the 'Intifada dress.' Cut in the style of a traditional Palestinian 'thobe,' these dresses bore the unmistakable stitches of resistance. They were embroidered with iconography steeped in Palestinian symbolism: national flags, territorial maps, and natural motifs like olive branches and orange trees. Even the phrases 'We will return' (سنعود) were intricately woven into the fabric, all rendered in traditional Palestinian colors. Through these garments, tatreez became not just an art form but a powerful tool for political expression and resistance.

@TATREEZANDTEA

Tatreez endures as a symbol of Palestinian heritage, as an assertive emblem of cultural identity passed down, but also as a poignant reminder of home for those displaced. As the stitches continue to interlace threads of the past and present, each piece becomes not only an artwork but also an identifier of its history as an economic tool, historical presence, and political statement, an all-encompassing chapter in the living history book that is Palestine. 

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TATREEZ

TODAY

img @INAASHASSOCIATION
img @INAASHASSOCIATION

Today, tatreez is finding new life in contemporary fashion, with artisans and designers infusing its storied patterns into everything from hoodies to coasters to shoes. A modern translation of tatreez not only preserves its heritage but also stitches its cultural significance into the fabric of everyday wear, inviting a new generation to embrace and carry forward this emblem of identity and tradition. 

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INAASH BIRDS OF RAMALLAH SLIPPERS aed477 at INAASH
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DĀR COLLECTIVE TEXTILES OF PALESTINE SWEATSHIRT aed140 at DĀR COLLECTIVE
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INAASH MIXED COASTERS aed44 at INAASH
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INAASH GREEN TREE CANVAS CUSHION aed422 at INAASH
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RAMZ PALESTINIAN FLAG T SHIRT aed183 at RAMZ
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RAMZ PIGEON OF LIFTA SHIRT aed240 at RAMZ
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INAASH CLUTCH aed1,100 at INAASH
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TATREEZ FALASTEEN HAND EMBROIDERED T-SHIRT aed160 at INAASH
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ARAK STUDIO DIGITAL BLUR TATREEZ SET aed990 at ARAK STUDIO
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TATREEZ AND TEA TATREEZ HOODIE aed290 at TATREEZ AND TEA
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