The Handwoven Costumes of Palestine and Jordan
Traditionally women embroidered hand-woven fabrics made of linen, cotton or a blend of both fibers. They also sometimes embroidered on silk, using silk or metal threads. Until the end of the 19th century, textile production flourished in Historic Palestine. The fabrics were woven in Al Majdal, Gaza, Bethlehem, Safad, Ramallah, Nazareth, Hebron, and Nablus. However, luxurious fabrics, such as silk, satin and brocades, came from Syria. The production facilities in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Hama continue to be famous.
Overview of the various styles of Palestinian and Jordanian dress
Jordanian and Palestinian textiles are as beautiful as they are varied. This table shows a few of the colors and styles that make up Jordanian and Palestinian fashion.
Ramallah Dresses from Ramallah were often made of natural light-colored linen or linen that was almost black. The dark colour was achieved by a process of dipping the fabric into indigo dye nine times. The patterns were geometric, but around 1879, floral and other new designs started to appear. Those new cross-stitch designs were copied from the pattern sheets of the Quakers, who established two boarding schools in Ramallah in 1870.
Ramallah - Summer Dress Ramallah - Summer Dress (1880) by unknownTIRAZ widad kawar home for arab dress
Ramallah Summer Dress
Dresses from Ramallah are well known for their wine-red cross-stitch, embroidered on hand-loomed linen called roumi.
In Ramallah, dress styles change color by season. During the summer, women use white linen, and in winter, black. The embroidery is based on geometric patterns, and applied all over the dress even including the back. One can distinguish the back of a Ramallah dress by the palm tree patterns on the lower section of it.
Gaza: The fabrics for garments from Gaza were all woven in Al Majdal, which was the largest and most important textile manufacturing center of the region. Up to the mid-19th century, it was still equipped with more than 500 active looms. The typical Gaza fabrics made of linen and cotton were distinguished by purple and turquoise colored side borders.
Gaza - Village Thawb Gaza - Village Thawb (1938) by unknownTIRAZ widad kawar home for arab dress
Dress from Gaza
This dress, made of fine linen dyed with indigo, has a rounded V-shaped neckline, and is embroidered mainly with a pattern called qeladeh, which means necklace.
Thanks to the intricate embroidery around the neck, women did not have to wear jewelry. 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.
Gaza - Village Thawb Gaza - Village Thawb, back (1938) by unknownTIRAZ widad kawar home for arab dress
Traditionally, the fabric for Gaza-area costumes was woven in Majdal. These costumes had a wide variety of cuts, including the wide cut of Faluja and the slim cut of Isdud, which is worn beltless. It is the only dress in Gaza to be worn without a belt.
Hebron Textile Fragment with Indigo by unknownTIRAZ widad kawar home for arab dress
Hebron Textile Fragment with Indigo
This fragment is likely from a woman's everyday dress. It is made of linen and silk thread embroidered overtop indigo died linen and is an example of Tallis embroidery.
Bethlehem dressTIRAZ widad kawar home for arab dress
The malak is a glamorous costume decorated with the couching tahriry stitch, which started in Bethlehem and nearby Beit Jala before spreading to Beit Sahour and villages around Jerusalem. It is unlike the cross stitch embroidery of any other village in Palestine.
This dress is embroidered with geometric patterns and outlined in gold or silver cords on the chest, sleeves, 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. It comes in stripes of black, red, green and orange. The different pieces of fabric are connected with the manajel stitch in silk threads 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.
Bethlehem - Khaddameh Bethlehem - Khaddameh (1925) by unknownTIRAZ widad kawar home for arab dress
This dress, called khaddameh, was made for daily use in Bethlehem. The main differences between this dress and the malak lay in the fabric threads and embroidery patterns.
Bethlehem - Khaddameh Bethlehem - Khaddameh, back by unknownTIRAZ widad kawar home for arab 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.
Jaffa: The embroidery work from the Jaffa area is characterized by precision and delicacy. The stitches are petite, the patterns detailed and the overall effect of the dress is elegant. The most famous garments of this area are the dresses from Bait Dajan, which was a large village near Jaffa. Jaffa is home to the unique Jaffa orange; therefore, the motif of the orange blossom was especially popular in the local embroidery. Trees often come on the border of the dress. They symbolize the trees that women planted as a natural wall around their farms.
Galilee: The clothes in Galilee differed from the other areas of Palestine. In fact they were more similar to the styles in Syria and Lebanon. Garments from Galilee were only sparsely embroidered, if at all. Galilee women worked alongside the men in the fields. In this context, embroidery was considered a waste of time, giving rise to the proverb that says: ”Lack of work teaches embroidery.”
Dresses from the Tiraz Permanent CollectionTIRAZ widad kawar home for arab dress
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.
Bedouin: The dress of the nomadic bedouin of Bir Sabaa was longer and wider than that of the sedentary population. It was always made out of black fabric and the color of the embroidery thread denoted the marital status of the woman. As a bride, she decorated her costume with embroidery of various shades of red. In case she was widowed, she used embroidery with blue thread, the color of mourning. If she remarried, she added pink or red embroidery accents on top of the blue.
Close-up of Belt and Skirt from Southern Palestine (1930) by unknownTIRAZ widad kawar home for arab dress
Close-up of wool belt and skirt from Southern Palestine
This was worn by Bedouin of Southern Palestine. The cowrie shells on the belt have amuletic properties, as do the patterns on dress and belt.
South Palestine - Dress of Naqab Bedouin South Palestine - Dress of Naqab Bedouin (1960) by unknownTIRAZ widad kawar home for arab dress
Dress of Naqab Bedouin
Compared to village dresses, those of the Naqab Bedouin are more voluminous with longer, winged sleeves and denser embroidery on the front and back of the skirt, using a repeated geometrical pattern.
South Palestine - Dress of Naqab Bedouin South Palestine - Dress of Naqab Bedouin by unknownTIRAZ widad kawar home for arab dress
These 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 marital status.
Irbd and Ajloun: Geographically, North Jordan is part of the plain of Houran which extends into southern Syria. Therefore the influence of the Houran style on clothing in North Jordan was tremendous. These clothes were made of a black and blue fabric, with one of the two colors dominating. The dresses in northern Jordan were worn in single length without a belt and had narrow sleeves. The neckline, the sleeves, the side panels and the hemline were embroidered. The embroidery stitch was done with different colored silk threads and was usually limited to decorating seams.
Shirsh Shaghat dress from IrbidTIRAZ widad kawar home for arab dress
Shirsh or Shakhat dress
Shakhat refers to the'slices' of material found in white on the sleeves and sides of dress. In this dress from Irbid, in the north of Jordan, the shakhat were blue strips but now appear almost white from use.
Kerak and Es Salt:The dresses in central and southern Jordan were double the length with the excess fabric draped over the belt to form a pocket. They had long, usually pointed sleeves. The materials were not woven in Jordan but imported from Palestine or Syria. The embroidery designs on dresses in Kerak show the influence of Palestinian embroidery. It is said that this was due to Palestinian immigrants who settled in Kerak even before the First World War. At that time, there were not borders in the region, and migration back and forth between what is now Palestine and Jordan was common. Migration was especially strong between Kerak and Hebron.
Salt DressTIRAZ widad kawar home for arab dress
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 where a belts is used to drape one layer over another. This creates a useful pocket at the wearer’s waist.
The dress requires fourteen 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.
Salt Lady by Kamel KawarTIRAZ widad kawar home for arab dress
A Woman from Salt
Along with their dress, women from Salt often wore a beautiful headpiece, made of red silk and silver threads, and woven in Homs, Syria. This was also a prized possession.
Thawb of the Beni Hasan Tribe Thawb of the Beni Hasan Tribe by unknownTIRAZ widad kawar home for arab dress
One can see the influence of Salt dresses such as this one in the costumes of other regions in Jordan (though on a reduced scale), for example the beautiful thawb of the Beni Sakhr
Headpiece from North Jordan by Kamel KawarTIRAZ widad kawar home for arab dress
Headpiece from North Jordan
Along with their dresses, women wore beautiful headpieces, often sewn with gold and silver coins. The coins acted not only as adornment, but were also insurance, and an investment against hard times. If her family needed money for any reason -- for example, if she wanted to repair a tooth, or send a son to college, then she would use the coins. Women often received coins as part of their dowry upon marriage.
Ma'an Dress in Ikat Fabric: Only one area in Jordan, Ma’an, preferred colored fabrics. The town was a station on the Hejaz railway from Istanbul, a meeting place for pilgrims headed for Mecca. To cover travel expenses, pilgrims from Syria brought along hand-woven silk fabrics to sell in Ma’an, and this trade left its mark on the local costumes. Railways ran all the way from Damascus, Syria, to Medina in Saudi Arabia, and was built as a part of a project by Kaiser Willhem in 1916. Even before the railway, pilgrims always used Ma'an as a place to rest before the final leg of their journey to Mecca.
Dress with Raqma Embroidery from RamthaTIRAZ widad kawar home for arab dress
The Hauran Region: Nestled in the plains and foothills of the Hauran mountains, the region of Ramtha
and Irbid in the North of Jordan share many styles with Southern Syria. It is
also famous for a stitch that is unique to Jordan and Southern Syria, called
the Raqma. With a Raqma stitch, the pattern emerges not
from the threads themselves, but from the black material of the dress beneath,
creating patterns with the negative space.
Here you can see how the negative space is responsible for depicting the design. This dress is uses the Raqma stitching from Ramtha, in Northern Jordan.
Revival of the Raqma Embroidery Stitch
Because of the difficulty of the Raqma stitch and the industrialization of Jordan, this stitch has almost been lost.
Ma'an, Thawb Heremzy - Front by UnknownTIRAZ widad kawar home for arab dress
Ma'an, Thawb Heremzy
Called thawb heremzy, this dress from Ma'an is distinctive for its bright colors and silk fabric woven in Syria. Ma'an women didn't often embroider their dresses, instead they focused on the contrast of the bright fabrics.
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 allow the woman cover head is needed. The women of Ma'an used similar fabrics to make embroidered pillows which they used to decorate the house.
Ma'an, Thawb Heremzy - Back (2014) by Tiraz CentreTIRAZ widad kawar home for arab dress
Because of its location, Ma'an was often a stopping-point for pilgrims on their way to make Hajj. The pilgrims would bring textiles from Syria and Turkey to sell in order to pay for their food and lodging. These colorful textiles attracted the local women, and became an important part of the distinctive Ma’an dress.
All these dresses and styles of Jordan and Palestine speak to a flourishing and unique craft, and the influence of women on fashion and dress in the region.
Madaba - Thawb Heremzy Madaba - Thawb Heremzy (2014) by Tiraz CentreTIRAZ widad kawar home for arab dress
Women of Madaba, another market city, also liked silks and bright colors. In this bridal dress, called Thob Atlas, one pointed sleeve is attached inside-out, enabling the woman to wear it over her shoulder.
The dresses of Jordan are beautiful and varied. Styles range from region to region, yet share certain similarities, as women have moved and influenced each other over the years. The uniqueness and influence of Jordanian dresses can be seen in this dress of the A'dwan Tribe, which shares the length of the Salt dress, yet is unique in its colorful embroidery. All of these dresses show the importance of women to Jordanian society, through the richness of her dress, and the ingenious utility, beauty and originality of her styles.