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  • January 2012
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Palestine in Threads

English: Embroidered pillowcase produced by Pa...

Palestinian Embroidery

Men and women in every culture create beautiful crafts that are valuable commodities. Regardless of politics, beauty is something we can all appreciate.

As Jon and I prepare for our move, we are sorting through our treasure trove of Batik and other cloth from Asia. It’s a cinch to find people to share them with around Cornell with its Indonesia and South East Asian connections.  We anticipate it may be more difficult to find many South East Asian experts in Colorado…but, who knows?

During our first visit to Palestine, I admired the intricate Palestinian embroidery work on tablecloths, pillow cases and especially, women’s “Thobes”.


These are the long dresses worn by many of the young women on special occasions, while most of the older women wear them on the street going to market and doing their daily tasks.


I learned from a friend that each town has it own distinctive design and color scheme. Many of the colors originated from plants indigenous to the area: “reds” from pomegranate, “dark blues” from the indigo plant: “yellow” from saffron flowers etc.


I had hoped to find one for myself from her hometown,  but they are costly, and time for proper bargaining ran out.

Eventually, I bought one for myself, in a tourist market in Nazareth.  It was highly inappropriate; immodestly short-sleeved, over sized even for me, with bright multi-colored threads on black.  It resembles a rainbow and wear it as often as possible. I guess you could say it represents is the “Tourist visit of Mary Perry”.

On my next visit, I want to buy the authentic “Thobe” representing Bethlehem, the city of Christ‘s birth. Bethlehem’s pattern reminds me of a traditional red Ukrainian stitch, against a black background.  All the women in the Choir at Bethlehem Bible College wear this costume so I hope I can find somebody who will help me shop and bargain for it.

As I searched on the internet for the exact pattern I was looking for, I found the following short film advertising a book about historic Palestinian embroidery motifs written by Margarita Skinner in association with Widad Kawar.

My interest piqued further as I discovered this ancient film clip from the ’20s of a Palestinian woman wrapping herself in a double thobe/dress.

This was before the modern world came to Palestine. I was fascinated when I thought about Mary, the mother of Jesus  and possibly even Abraham’s wife, Sarah, wrapping their own dresses in a similar fashion. It seemed entirely possible since time stood still for so many centuries before the arrival of our modern technological age.

A little more information on Palestinian stitchery follows:


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