Thursday, July 15, 2010

Brides of the Arab World: Palestine

Arabesque Festival: Brides of the Arab World-- Palestine

All of these pictures were taken at the Kennedy Center during the Arabesque Festival and the text is from the exhibit.


Asdud Dress
With its lightweight fabric and V-cut neckline, the Asdud costume was well suited to the warm Mediterranean climate of this coastal town. This particular dress was hand-woven in the 1930s in nearby Mejdel, once famous for its narrow linen edged with red or turqoise stripes. Similar fabric has been excavated from sites dating back to the 2nd century, and the embroidery patterns (cypress trees, combs) are just as ancient. The headdress or saffeh resembles that woen in other coastal areas; decorated with coins, it is wrapped around the bride's braided hair and covered with a large embroidered headscarf. Since the 1948 war, the former residents of Asdud have lived in refugee camps in nearby Gaza. Asdud is now the Israeli town of Ashdod and its traditional embroidery has almost disappeared, although Palestinian workshops in Lebanon and Jordan do still re-create these classic patterns on shawls, jackets and bags.

El Khalil Dress

The El Khalil wedding dress is famous for its winged sleeves and heavy embroidery, with silk cross-stitch covering most of the linen. The bride may also wear a coin-covered vest called a miklab. The headdress, richly decorated with coins and precious stones, sits atop a simple cap. Reserved exclusively for weddings, it is shared by all brides from the same clan. A large embroidered linen scarf called a ghudfeh is draped over the headdress; after the bride is presented wo the wedding guests, the scarf is removed to reveal her complete costume. Embroidery motifs on this dress, made in the 1940's, include "acanthus leaves with cup" khemet-el-pasha (the tent of the pasha) and feathers.

Jerusalem Dress

Made in the 1940s, this wedding dress from the village of Ein Karem reveals the strong influence Bethlehem exerted on the embroidery in villages around Jerusalem in the early 20th century. The primary fabric is imported European velvet, and the chest piece, side panels and sleeves are silk embroidered with couching. Called talhami or tahriri, this needlework was usually done by professional women embroiderers in the towns of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahur. And as in Bethlehem, a short-sleeved embroidered jacket (taqsireh) was worn over the long-sleeved dress, creating a lovely shirred effect. The scarf covering the headdress was trimmed with locally made lace, a feature unique to Jerusalem costumes.
This is but one of the eight different Jerusalem styles; each boasts different fabrics and colors, but all feature similar embroidered panels. The former residents of Ein Karem are now refugees (the village has become a popular Israeli tourist destination). but Palestinian embroidery workshops still reproduce the Ein Karem dress as well as the taqsireh which many women now wear as an elegant jacket.
Ramallah Dress
(Left side in photo below)
One of the most famous Palestinian costumes, the Ramallah bridal outfit is said to have originated in the 5th century. This one was made in the 1920s of hand woven linen embroidered with silk thread in a cross stitch pattern. It features the traditional squarechest piece adorned with age-old motifs such as flowers, palm trunks, birds and the S- shaped alak or leeches (used for medicinal purposes, they represent good health and longevity). Its wuqa headdress is decorated with Ottoman coins and cross stitch embroidery.
Draped over the headdress is a matching scarf embroidered with crosses, a reminder that Ramallah was a predominantly Christian town in the 1920s. During the 1930s, silk scarves imported form the Far East became popular, but today the traditional costume is worn without a scarf. On special occasions, Palestinian women intent on preserving their heritage wear contemporary versions of the dress made of synthetic fabric embroidered with cotton thread. The headscarves have been re-purposed as wall hangings, tablecloths and cushions.

Bethlehem Dress
(right dress in photo)
A woman would wear this costume for the first time on her wedding day, then on festive occasions thereafter. Distinguish by long, winged sleeves called irdan, these dresses were made from a special linen hand-woven exclusively for that purpose. The fabric was crafted in lengths of about 10 yards; silver brocade at one end was used for the lower back of the dress, a tradition that goes back at least 10 centuries. The shatweh, or headdress, resembles those seen on ivory statues dating from 1200 BC. It was presented to the bride at their wedding and could be worn only by married women. Decorated with Ottoman coins and coral, the shatweh, is covered by a large headscarf.
Most of the embroidery on the dress and headdress is metallic and silk couching. The square chest piece features a traditional design with floral rounds in each corner and a central medallion containing a cross (this dress dates from the 1930s when Bethlehem was predominantly Christian). For Muslim brides, flowers replaced the cross. This special linen has not been woven since the 1960s, but Bethlehem dresses made with synthetic fabric and embroidery thread are available to today's brides, who often include one in their weddings along with a modern white gown. On special occasions, today's Palestinian women also wear contemporary jackets and accessories inspired by the traditional couching.


  1. Can you add some images of the Hijab or shelagh only

  2. Can you add some images of the Hijab or shelagh only