Wednesday, April 12, 2006


As you see, Bethlehem's traditions were quite different from everyone else's. For a start, embroidery was a profession, not a domestic skill, and the Bethlehem embroiderers were known for their unique decorative style, which involved couched outlines, often with silver and gold threads, filled in with satin stitch. (In case you don't know, couching is a surface embroidery technique: instead of using backstitch or chain stitch to outline patterns, one thread is laid on the fabric, and then stitched down with another, finer, thread to create long, unbroken lines.) The women of Bethlehem also favoured brightly striped Syrian silk, as well as locally woven cotton.

This qabbeh (chest panel) reminds me of Persian flower garden rugs, and Elizabethan knot gardens, with groups of herbs and flowers framed by low hedges and gravel paths.
Worked on velvet, it is typical of the Bethlehem style.

Notice also the scarlet velvet taqsireh (wedding jacket). I believe that wearing a jacket was also unique to Bethlehem. Men and women had fairly plain ones for everyday wear, but wedding jackets were sumptuous, as you can see. The jacket sleeves are mid-length, to accommodate the long wide sleeves of the thob, which probably has embroidered silk panels along the shoulders.

Note the rich and delicate embroidery on the striped silk skirt - see the tiny bird? - all worked without a pattern.

Try and imagine these much-faded taqsirehs in their original purple and scarlet. I dry clothes indoors most of the year, because the sun here absolutely destroys fabric - favourite shirts fade and turn crispy in an afternoon unless you have a canopy overhead.

Notice too the tall hats decorated with rows and rows of coins: these were for everyday too, not just special occasions. Jehan Rajab comments that Bethlehem women did not carry groceries on their heads as women from other areas did!

Nowadays I don't think twice when I see older local ladies carrying packages this way (The younger ones prefer branded designer carrier bags and someone to carry them out to the shiny wheels..... It's true!) - or paper grocery sacks in American films - but both seemed strange at first, because in England we had carrier bags! But, it makes perfect sense to carry the day's fresh vegetables in a wide woven basket (sunshade?!) on your head; and there's no need for handles for a car-culture weekly/monthly shopping expedition, but carrier bags with handles are a must for shopping two or three times a week at the local shops. What's your local style?

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