The particular (Thawb) was first acquired by Widad Kamel Kawar from a village in the surrounding area of Jerusalem. She graciously donated it to the Zay Initiative after her webinar discussion with Dr Reem el Mutwalli in February 2021, in which they discussed her life passion of collecting embroidered garments from Palestine and surrounding areas.
Sit Widad is the founder of the Tiraz Centre in Amman, Jordan, home to the biggest collection of Palestinian, Jordanian, and Arab traditional dress in the world, and the author of Threads of Identity, a record of Palestinian dress and the women who made and wore it. With her childhood and youth spent in Bethlehem and Ramallah, Widad was surrounded by traditional Palestinian weaving and embroidery. The war and displacement in Palestine encouraged her to collect not only the items but the stories and legacies of the women who lost their homes and their culture. For Widad, each item in her collection is a reminder of a person, a place, and an event. Her knowledge stems from the personal stories of the women who made and worn these dresses.
Read more about Sit Widad and the Tiraz Centre here
The Palestinian dress Thawb differs region to region, this specific example represents the style popular in Jerusalem.
The fabric used to make thawbs in Palestine was usually narrow, no more than 16-20 cm, which determined the style of the dress. To give more width to a dress, two long triangles (Banayek) were often cut and inserted along the sides of the garment. Sleeves were usually set in a straight cut, if the extravagant winged sleeves (irdan) were desired, a triangle of fabric could be added. A square breast piece (Qabah) was often cut separately, this would be heavily embellished and sewn on to the thawb.
Embroidery (Tatreez) was the principal decoration for rural women’s clothing in Palestine. It is known for its richness of colour and texture, as well as the regional variations in the vast number of traditional motifs. The art form was part of the rural women’s daily routine, and the embellishments on the wearer’s clothes showed off her personal skill and social identity. The patterns would often reflect her social standing, marital status, and wealth. The most widespread of Palestinian embroidery techniques is colloquially known as (Fallahi) cross-stich embroidery. Fallahi literally means ‘farmer’ in Standard Arabic, because it was widely practiced in the rural farming communities of the south and central regions of historic Palestine.
In this specific thawb the embroidered chest panel (Qabat_balat) is made up of tiles, resembling the Roman floor tiles that line the streets in Jerusalem city, in motifs of birds and (Sarow) pine trees. The motif of pine trees is found in a lot of the embroidery from the villages surrounding Jerusalem because the people used to grow pine trees on their lands. The back panel of the thawb is embroidered with a star of Bethlehem and feathers.
Although dresses from Jerusalem had their own unique style represented in the cross-stitching and specific motifs, the region is also known to adopt the Couching or (Tahriry) embroidery style which was developed in Bethlehem. This can be seen in the striped boarder surrounding the cross-stitched qabah.
A note on pronunciation: as with many Arabic words, the name of this specific garment can be pronounced in many different ways, often varying between neighbouring villages. To simplify, in the north of Palestine and Jordan this item is mostly pronounced as [tobe], in the south, and among the Bedouins, the more widespread pronunciation (Thobe) or Thawb is usually maintained. In our Zay Collection descriptions, for the sake of consistency, we have chosen to default to [thawb].
Read more about Palestinian dress (specifically the style from Bethlehem) here