Explore the beautiful fabrics, dyes and embroidery techniques from ten regions in Palestine and Jordan
The colors and dyeing techniques
The embroidery thread consisted of naturally dyed silk and was made in Syria. But since the 1930s, threads imported from Europe have been commonly used.
For the coloring, predominantly herbal mixtures, preserved by Fermentation were used. The most important dye was indigo (indigofera argentina) with which one could dye the fabric in different shades of blue. The darker the resulting color was, the greater the effort that had to be made and the more precious became the final material. To dye fabrics a darker shade, the process of dipping the fabric had to be repeated over and over again.
Carmine was used to create an intensely bright red. This dye was obtained from the cochineal insect which breeds on cactus. Red was also obtained from madder, a root of the native common madder plant (rub tinctorum). If mixed indigo and common madder bring forth purple and orange tones. Yellow was produced with saffron (crocus sativus). Any color could be made darker by adding pomegranate rind.
The embroidery styles
Cross-stitch was the most famous technique used everywhere in Palestine, except for the areas of Galilee, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Cross-stitch is also called fallahy, because this type of embroidery was mainly done by peasant women who are called fallaheen in Arabic. In Bethlehem, Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, couching embroidery was particularly popular. With this technique, cording of silk or silver thread dipped in gold water was stitched to the fabric.
Dress from Gaza
This dress, made of fine linen dyed with indigo, has a semi-round V-shaped neckline, and is embroidered mainly with a pattern called qeladeh, which means necklace.
Because the pattern forms a necklace around the neck of the dress, a woman doesn’t have to wear jewelry. The chest panel (qabbeh) is embroidered with cross stitch. The sleeves are regular and of fabric called biltaji. The side panels (banayek) are very delicately embroidered with cross stitch. One of the special features of this dress is the way the patterns fit together to form large units of embroidery down the sides. When many patterns are squeezed together, they are called wisadeh. On this dress, you can also see a large diamond shape, known as scissors.
The dress is embroidered with geometric patterns, outlined in gold or silver cords on the chest and sides of the dress. One feature that makes the malak dress special is its fabric, which is hand woven silk and linen, made in Bethlehem, and comes in stripes of black, red, green and orange. The different pieces of fabric are connected with the manajel stitch in silk thread of many colors.
It was customary to be married in this dress, not only in Bethlehem, but in many Palestinian villages. Women also saved one of their malak costumes to be buried in. As a result, many of the finest dresses have been lost. In the second half of the 20th century, production of this style declined, to the point that at present, it is hard to find a woman in Bethlehem who wears the malak dress.
Khaddameh vs. Malak dress
While the malak is made of silk and linen striped fabric specific to Bethlehem, the khaddameh uses plain linen without stripes. Similarly, the malak is embroidered on the chest panel and sides with an ornate couching stitch, while the khaddemeh’s chest panel is embroidered with the simpler and less costly cross stitch. The sleeves of this dress are done in the kumm ‘irdan style in which the sleeves are long, pointed, and triangular. The wearer of this dress would tie the two sleeves behind her back while working to make movement easier. Khaddama means service in Arabic, and this dress is for everyday service.
In Nablus and Tulkarim, which are part of the lower Galilee, women wore festive dresses with green and red stripes, called "Heaven and Hell." The dress has little embroidery and large pointed sleeves.
There were other Galilee festive costumes, known as Jellaye, which were open in front with delicate and colorful silk patchwork on the front and back of the dress. These were mostly found in upper Galilee.
The dresses were originally made of hand woven, indigo-dyed fabric, although in the 1920s this changed to machine-woven cotton bought in Bir Saba’ or Gaza. At the bottom of the dress is a 5-centimeter band of running stitch done in blue thread, to protect the hem from wear and tear.
The Bedouin also believed that this band protected the wearer from the evil eye. Each tribe had its own distinctive style. The shape of the qabeh, or chest panel, varied from tribe to tribe, and was sometimes replaced by a narrow piece of red silk, rather than embroidery. In some tribes, widows had blue embroidery on their costume to show their status. If a widow remarried, she added pink embroidery to the blue.
Needle, daughter of the needle
The shakhat are a distinctive feature, along with the embroidery, raqmeh, which uses the black fabric underneath as part of its design. The dress is often worn for weddings or other festivities, then turned into an everyday dress. It was embroidered using a technique popular in the region, called Ibreh bint Ibreh, meaning ‘needle, daughter of the needle.’
The Salt dress is distinctive for its size; especially the length of the dress’s skirt and sleeves. The women wear it in what is called a double-drape; that is, a woman belts the dress, so that one layer hangs down over another, sometimes almost to her feet. This creates a useful pocket at the wearer’s waist.
The dress requires sixteen meters of dubeit fabric. Blue bands of indigo-dyed fabric run vertically on the sides and sleeves, and also around the hem. These bands both strengthen and enhance the beauty of the dress. Salt has always been a prominent market center, and has drawn Bedouins and villagers from the surrounding area.
One can see the influence of the Salt dress in the costumes of other regions in Jordan (though, on a reduced scale.)
Ma'an, Thawb Heremzy
The bridal dress of Ma'an, called a thawb heremzy, is made from panels of red and green silk fabric, which is hand woven in Syria. It has a large cut with minimal embroidery and uses a running stitch on the seams and neck. One sleeve is larger than the other, to help the woman cover head with it if she needs to. The women of Ma'an used similar fabrics to make embroidered pillows which they used to decorate the house.