Women in Palestine have been embroidering for centuries. Examples of Palestinian embroidery can be found as far back as the 19th century. Earlier examples are described in the memoirs of travelers, as well as in pre-19th century European paintings. Many of the images represented in the materials are also found in regional ancient mosaics and carvings.
Palestinian embroidery is very beautiful and of very high quality. The tradition of embroidering in locally-distinctive styles was at its height during the Ottoman rule of Palestine. The motifs represented in Bethlehem and Jerusalem include the tree of life, and are dominated by vibrant reds, golds, and yellows. Whereas the motifs of Gaza— predominantly the amulet, the butterfly, and the comb— are represented in a variety of deep purples. Many historic motifs are inspired by the natural landscape and wildlife, while others are derived from basic geometric shapes like triangles, squares and rosettes.
The skill was usually passed on to young girls by their grandmothers and since they were often not sent to school, days would be spent making clothes. Because of international trade routes that historically went through the Holy Land, there have always been diverse images in Palestinian embroidery. Today, this historic handicraft is still passed down by grandmothers and mothers.
The purpose of embroidery has changed greatly in Palestine’s recent history. Political unrest in the region has pushed many women into the position of main provider for their families. Some women are widowed, while others have husbands that are unable to find work because of the separation wall and the many restrictions on movement in the area. Many women who are skilled embroiderers accept the challenge of becoming a provider for their family. They begin to try to sell their work, but face many challenges. BFTA partners with many of these women, empowering them through education and practical business support.
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