The Art of Tatreez: A Story of Culture and Tradition

In a world where fast fashion dominates the industry, preserving ancient art forms and traditional hand crafts has become more important than ever. Yousra & Co is my part in conserving traditions and culture. We focus on preserving many art forms, such as the embroidery technique known as tatreez, which has been slowly disappearing as generations fly by. While we offer embroidery kits to teach or help people practice tatreez, we do not specialize in selling or sourcing traditional Palestinian thobes.

 However, today I want to share with you the story of a thobe gifted to me by my grandmother. My grandmother is from Bani Naim, a village bordering the city of Al-Khalil (Hebron). This dress, which was always referred to in our family as (ثوب عرق الطاووس), which roughly translates to the peacock patterned thobe, carries a story of cultural significance and tradition.

 Up until the 1980’s, thobes were the only article of clothing that women in Palestinian villages could leave their houses in. Anything else would bring strange looks, gossip, and rumors. This was not the case for women living in larger Palestinian cities. Mechanical tatreez, created with computers and advanced machines that provide us with affordable and quickly made thobes in a multitude of designs and styles that we have now, did not exist at this time. Therefore, all thobes were hand-embroidered. Women would exchange completed thobes, or grid books with hand drawn motifs with each other to use as templates to create their thobes. Depending on the amount of embroidery, the style, and size, it would take them between two months to a year to complete.

 The tradition of only leaving your home in thobes started to fade away in the 1980s. The rise of fast fashion and the use of machines to create affordable thobes led to the decline of the hand-embroidered thobe. The art of tatreez and the tradition of creating thobes by hand was slowly being forgotten.

 My grandmother's thobe is a reminder of this tradition. The thobe is a beautiful piece of clothing with intricate hand-embroidered designs that have been passed down from generation to generation. It represents the culture and tradition of our ancestors and is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the women who created it.

To preserve this piece of history, I sat down with my grandmother to ask her some questions about her thobe and the tradition of creating hand-embroidered thobes. Here is a Q&A from that conversation:


[Translated from Arabic to English]


Q: What year did you make the thobe?

A: I made this thobe in 1978


Q: Who helped you create it, and who put it together?

A: I borrowed the design from my sister in laws thobe, that my mother made for her. I liked the peacock motif, and then embroidered it myself. My mother helped me with some of the more intricate stitching that holds the entire thobe together (زريدة). Then, I took it to my oldest sister who was a seamstress to put it all together.


Q: How long did it take you to create?

A: It took me about five months to complete the embroidery.


Q: What did you need to make it?

A: I needed 30 DMC thread balls, black fabric that I purchased from Al-Khalil, and time.


Q: Was this a thobe you embroidered for special occasions, or every day?

A: I embroidered it without an intention of it being for special events, or for every day. When it was new, I wore it to weddings, and special occasions, but as it got older I wore it out casually.


Q: Why did you give away all of the thobes you embroidered, except for this one?

A: This was a very intricate design, and it was much harder for me to stitch. It was also a thobe my late mother, and sister helped me put together so I was never emotionally able to let go. 


 Q: What made you give this to me, rather than all your daughters who begged you for it for years?

A: Because I know you are the only one who will preserve this the way I want it to be kept. You have proven that to me over the years, more so when I gave you my engagement ring that has even more history and meaning than this thobe we are talking about now.

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