New book draws on forgotten treasures of Palestinian embroidery

Birzeit University Museum together with Sunbula, a Jerusalem-based not-for-profit fair-trade organization, launched a book that details Palestinian embroidery techniques in a ceremony held on the university’s campus on September 14, 2019.

The book, titled “Seventeen Embroidery Techniques from Palestine-An Instruction Manual,” is co-authored by Tania Tamari Naser, Omar Joseph Nasser-Khoury, Shirabe Yamada, and Widad Kamel Kawar. Based mainly on the museum’s costume collection, it includes interviews with several Palestinian embroiderers, especially elderly women, and focuses on less-known and disappearing techniques. Divided into two main categories, the manual analyzes 17 stitching techniques, differentiating between the purely ornamental and the decoratively functional.

This book, according to Naser, is a touchstone in the efforts to preserve this art form through documentation and archiving; it aims to safeguard the patterns and techniques of traditional embroidery in the age of mass production and the digital evolution and within the Palestinian context and future.

She added, “We started working on this book in 1985 in collaboration with Widad Kawar, one of the most prominent researchers and collectors of Palestinian cultural arts. In a first step, this cooperation led to our 1992-publication titled ‘Palestinian Embroidery: Traditional “Fallahi” Cross-Stitch.’ Now, we are working on an improved publication that focuses on another sixteen lesser-known stitching techniques.”

Fashion designer Nasser-Khoury gave a technical overview of the book, focusing on embroidery techniques as part of the long and inspiring history of crafting and creativity in Palestine. According to Nasser-Khoury, Palestinians have a rich, unique tradition of embroidery and an ability to fuse unusual motifs and edgy tailoring. Many of these techniques, unfortunately, are not used or forgotten, as most Palestinians only know the traditional cross-stitch designs, the designer pointed out.

Executive director of Sunbula Shirabe Yamada said that the organization has worked with hundreds of women across Palestine to collect the names, origins, steps and usages of all embroidery techniques. Illustrations and instructions, in addition to pictures of the embroiderers, are provided in the book.