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Craft Traditions of Palestine
 
   
Despite its popular image associated with conflict and poverty, Palestine has a rich and beautiful cultural heritage that has developed throughout its millennia-long history. Sunbula’s partner organizations produce a wide array of traditional handicrafts, using the artisan skills that have been passed on through generations. By providing the market for these crafts, Sunbula helps Palestinian artisans to be economically empowered, and supports the preservation of the cultural heritage.  
• Tatreez (Cross-stitch Embroidery)
• Tahriri (Couching-stitch Embroidery)
• Majdalawi Weaving
• Bedouin Weaving
• Olivewood Carving
• Mother-of-pearl Carving
• Olive Oil Soap
• Ceramics
 
 

Tatreez (Cross-stitch Embroidery)

Once a traditional craft practiced by village women, Palestinian cross-stitch embroidery has become an important symbol of Palestinian culture. Embroidered pieces can be found in the homes of most Palestinian families in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Israel and the Diaspora beyond, adorning the walls of houses in Jerusalem, villas in the Gulf, suburban homes in the United States, and cement block houses in refugee camps. In addition, cross-stitch embroidery is given as gifts and worn by Palestinians worldwide on festive occasions.

The popularity of embroidery springs from both its beauty and its association with the Palestine of the past. Common patterns reflect the millennia-long history of the land. The designs are derived from sources as diverse as ancient mythology and foreign occupations and date as far back as the Canaanites, who lived in the area over three thousand years ago.

The handicraft also symbolizes the traditional rural lifestyle of Palestine, much of which was lost after the 1948 creation of the state of Israel. Embroidery was the principal decoration of rural women’s clothing. It was part of a village women’s daily routine and a means of showing off her personal skills and social identity. The patterns, colors and quality of the dress reflected a woman’s social standing, marital status and wealth.

Although the Palestinian cultural landscape has changed dramatically in the last fifty years, cross-stitch embroidery has remained a vibrant handicraft because, for many Palestinians, it is a familiar reminder of Palestine in the days of their grandparents or great grandparents. [Excerpts from “Embroidering A Life: Palestinian Women and Embroidery”  by Elizabeth Price]

Sunbula’s partners making the Tatreez products:
- Aftafula Crafts
- Bethlehem Arab Women’s Union
- Idna Ladies’ Association
- Melkite Pastoral Society
- Surif Women’s Cooperative
- UNRWA – Sulafa Embroidery Project




Dense geometric patterns in deep red – the embroidery style that is distinctly Palestinian.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tahriri (Couching Stitch Embroidery)

"The main technique of Bethlehem embroidery is couching with silver, gold and silk cord. This is twisted into elaborate floral and curvilinear patterns, attached to the fabric with tiny stitches, and framed and filled with herringbone and satin-stitches in vividly colored silks." [Excerpts from “Palestinian Costume” by S. Weir]

Tahriri was used to make the front panels of wedding dresses and also the side panels of the skirts and the cuffs of the long traditional dresses. The technique may have been inspired by ornate church ornaments, liturgical clothing or the braid and couching ornamentation on the uniforms of Ottoman and British officers. Sunbula sells dress front panels, evening bags, cushion covers, runners, belts and many other beautiful items in the Tahriri stitch.

Sunbula’s partner making the Tahriri products:
 - Women’s Child Care Society  




A chest panel of the old Palestinian dress from Bethlehem, decorated with the couching stitch.

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Majdalawi Weaving

Originated from the Palestinian village of Al-Majdal (Israeli city of Ashkelon today), the Majdalawi fabric is a traditional Palestinian cloth woven by a male weaver on single treadle looms, using black and indigo cotton threads combined with silk threads in fuchsia and turquoise. Today, the fabric is woven at the Atfaluna Crafts, and the Arts and Crafts Village in Gaza City as a part of cultural preservation project.

Sunbula’s partner making the Majdalawi products:
- Atfaluna Crafts
 
 

 




A woman artisan weaves the Majdalawi fabric on the traditional loom, at Atfaluna Crafts in Gaza City.

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 Bedouin Weaving

The Bedouins are a nomadic people who, historically, have lived across the Middle East and North Africa, inhabiting arid areas and moving their base with turning of the seasons. Traditionally women’s work, the Bedouin weaving was developed in their unique culture, creating household items suited for the life in the desert. Sheep wool from one’s own herd is spun into thread, colored with natural dye and woven into a fabric using a ground loom. The particularly tight and strong fabric is used for tents, rugs, pillows, and other domestic items.

Sunbula’s partner making the Bedouin weaving products:
- Lakiya Bedouin Weaving Project
 

 




A Bedouin woman weaves a traditional rug on the ground-loom, at Lakiya Bedouin Weaving Project in the Negev.

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Olivewood Carving

 Olivewood is a local material found throughout Palestine, and the wood carving can be traced back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Travelers' accounts and historical documents describe the beauty of olive wood rosaries and crucifixes and their popularity among pilgrims.

Wood carvings are made from the branches of olive trees which are pruned at the completion of the olive picking season. It takes a six-step-process and 45 days for a piece of wood to turn into a beautiful piece of art. It is a skilled trade that requires 6-7 years of training for one to become a professional craftsperson. In addition to the handmade quality of the item, the grain of the wood gives each piece a special character.

Sunbula’s partner making the olivewood products:
- Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative    
 



A craftsman polishes an olivewood ornament, at a family-owned workshop in Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem.
 

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Mother-of-Pearl Carving

Mother-of-Pearl carving is a tradition dating back to the early 17th century. It evolved as an art form along with olive wood carving when Franciscan monks came to the Holy Land. The monks trained the local Christian population in the carving of olive wood and mother-of-pearl rosaries, crucifixes and reproductions of the Cave of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Today, mother-of-pearl is imported from Saudi Arabia.

Sunbula’s partner making the mother-of-pearl products
- Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative  



Polishing of the mother of pearl at a craft workshop in Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem.
 

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Olive Oil Soap
 
Palestinians are as particular about their choice of olive oil as the French or Italians are about their wines. The oil from Ramallah is light and a little bitter, while oil from Beit Jala is heavier and bitter like freshly pickled olives. Most oils in the area are the result of the first cold pressing.

The Palestinian town of Nablus has long been known throughout the Middle East for its large-scale production of olive oil soap. In homes older women are traditionally in charge of making olive oil soap. Today, many Palestinian families still use their grandmother’s handmade soap, made with leftover oil from pervious years after a new harvest brings freshly pressed olive oil to the family kitchen.

Sunbula’s partners making the olive oil soap:
- Aseela Women's Cooperative
- Sindyanna of Galilee
 




Piles of olive oil soap are being dried for the packaging, at Aseela Women's Cooperative in Bethlehem.

 

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Ceramics
 
Although ceramics in Palestine date far back to the Neolithic period, evidenced in the archeological sites in Jericho, it was the Armenian artisans in Jerusalem that popularized the art of pottery-making during the turn of the century.
Loved by both tourists and locals, the Palestinian pottery is renowned for vivid colors and arabesque motifs, which are influenced by Armenian, Ottoman, Persian, and Syrian arts.

Sunbula’s partner making the olive oil soap:
- Atfaluna crafts
 




An artisan painting a ceramic plate, at Atfaluna Crafts in Gaza City.

 

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All photography on this website is the work of Steve Sabella.


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