The particular (Thawb) was first acquired by Widad Kamel Kawar from Ajloun in North Jordan. 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
Great variation is represented in traditional Jordanian clothing, differing from region to region. Pride is taken in these differences, and the embellished garments often mark identity and a connection to one’s village or clan.
This specific garment (Thawb) in the Zay Initiative’s collection comes from Ajloun in the North of the country. It can be dated to the early 1940s, as the fabric has some synthetic threads which only appeared in the market in the 1940s. Locally called (Shirsh), North Jordanian Thawb is one length, with tight sleeves and a low, v-shaped neckline. The Thawb is worn straight on the body without a belt, the wearer would have a black or white shirt underneath to cover up the area around the neck opening. The neckline, sleeves, sides, and hem are usually intricately embroidered, as in this piece.
The embroidery on Jordanian garments differs from Palestinian needlework, the latter being predominantly a style of cross-stitch known locally as (Fallahi), meaning ‘farmer’ due to its popularity in rural farming communities. North Jordan is considered to produce some of the finest examples of this craft, likely due to the closeness to Syria and Northern Palestine, from which the embroidery threads are obtained.
The embroidery in the chest area is a great example of the elaborate technique of embroidery, which is called (mgatta’ah) and considered a unique style of embroidery in the Horan region in the south of Syria and the north of Jordan. The mgatta’ah is embroidery units that consist of a group of straight lines embroidered with multi-colored threads like green, white, and red, surrounded by a frame with red threads. This decoration adorns the edges of the zigzag line and surrounds the Thawb from the bottom, sides, and sleeves. The black space in the gaps between the stitches helps to form a wide variety of patterns.
With this dress it would be typical for a woman from the older generations to wear a black Scarf (Milfa) on her head, draped down to provide modesty by covering the opening at the chest. Younger women usually wore more colourful scarves. The milfa would be topped with an (Asbah), a silk piece of fabric tied at the side of the head and forming a sort of turban-like shape.
Women in the Aljoun region, from which this thawb originated, are also known for their use of jewellery, with a specific adornment for every part of the body, including the hands, feet, head, neck, and ears.
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].