Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Hebron thob and shambar

I'm starting with a collection of photos I took of thobs at the National Folklore Museum in Amman. A thob is simply a woman's outer dress, and although all those you see here are museum pieces, they are not necessarily out-of-date. I saw quite a few Jordanian and Palestinian ladies out shopping for groceries in their thobs, and many Palestinian women still sew to maintain their heritage, and from economic necessity. In Madaba we met a shopkeeper who sells the hand- and machine-work of several Palestinian women based in Madaba itself, and Amman, who support their families this way.

The heavily embroidered and fringed shawl you see here is a wedding veil specific to Hebron, called a shambar. I hope the lustre comes through on your screen.

When our school celebrates International Day, everyone comes in national dress, and since we have over 80 nationalities among our staff and students, the atmosphere is always happy, with everyone admiring everyone else's beautiful clothes, or patriotic colour scheme, or inventive draping of their nation's flag! The Palestinian and Jordanian ladies wear beautiful thobs: one of my favourites this year was of natural linen waist-deep in fine burgundy stitching; another was natural cotton with candy-coloured stitching; and then lots of girls came in the familiar black with red embroidery highlighted with traces of green or white. Gorgeous! One thing that I notice about our girl students, who can choose to wear long skirts, is that they all know how to move gracefully in a full-length skirt, (and sprint!) even in clumpy fashion shoes, on stairs, and weighed down with backpacks full of books!

This photo is a bit over-exposed (and the next one is a bit blurry - sorry) but you can appreciate the richness of this thob, and the skill and exuberant colour sense of the embroiderers. Girls used to learn early, in order to be able to sew their trousseaux. It was part of the betrothal tradition in many villages for the groom's family to make a special trip to buy cloth for wedding clothes, which the bride would then embroider. It would be an advantage to be a skilled needlewoman if you didn't want a long engagement!

Women celebrated daily life and the world around them in their embroidery motifs - as artists do in every medium and culture. There are lots of variations on the moon (qamr) - most of which look like stars (nejm) or flowers to me! The motif repeated down the central column here is nejm el riish, star of feathers, or quatrefoil, The reversed S on the side panels is 'Aleq, the leech in the rose - romance with bite....

The qabbeh, or chest piece is practical as well as beautiful. The solid embroidery provides extra insulation against cold air, while certain motifs, such as amulet, were believed to offer protection (to the heart?) from the evil eye. If you've seen big middle-eastern necklaces (silver bride-wealth - and insurance against hard times) you may have noticed small cylinders or triangular boxes among the Maria-Teresa dollars and coral and turquoise beads : these would contain verses from the Quran, or hadith, sayings of the Prophet (pbuh). The amulets were worn for protection from the evil eye, and symbolically incorporated into embroidery for the same reason. No, there aren't any amulet motifs here, I'm just letting you know!

For charts of Palestinian embroidery motifs and borders, links to other traditions, and more about Palestinian culture, take a look at . I'll put it in the sidebar later.

As you have probably gathered, I don't think that clothes have to be designed in Europe, the US or Australia, produced in a Chinese factory, and driven into our consciousness through the efforts of a pan-galactic media house with an advertising budget to rival the combined GNP of Central America to be beautiful, valuable and fun!


Rimal Publications said...

For a new wonderful book on Palestinian Embroidery visit

It's the latest book covering over 200 motifs by origin.

The publisher Rimal Publications is also publishing a new book on the largest Palestinian emboirdery collection in the world.

linda said...

Thank you so much for posting this! I had a link a long time ago for the Ladah Foundation and then lost it as well as forgot the name! The photographs that you took are beautiful. Thanks again!

Rimal Publications said...

A wonderful new book published by Rimal Publications. "THREADS OF IDENTITY: Preserving Palestinian Costume and Heritage" by Widad Kamel Kawar.
This book is a record of the 50 years Widad Kamel Kawar spent researching, collecting and preserving part of the heritage of Palestine. This endeavour evolved into the Widad Kawar Collection, the largest to date of Palestinian traditional dress and accessories, comprising more than 3,000 items.

In the following chapters Kawar presents the story of how the collection evolved and she introduces the life stories of the women who produced the beautiful costumes it contains. For her, each item calls to mind an individual or a place: a wife, a mother, a daughter, a family, a house, a village, a town, a field, a market. Each item was worn on special occasions, happy and sad, that marked the owner’s life. Much of Widad Kawar’s knowledge stems from the personal narratives of these women whose embroidery and dress-making skills she so admires.

Threads of Identity is a history of Palestinian women told through aspects of popular heritage, focusing on traditional dresses but also including textiles and rug weaving, rural and urban customs, jewellery, cuisine, and festivities. The interviews with women who lived through the traumas and changes of the 20th century are a contribution to oral history, augmenting standard historical accounts. While most writing about the Middle East concentrates on politics, her book focuses on the dignity of ordinary people, and women in particular, bridging the gap between the major events of history and everyday life. With this book Widad Kamel Kawar pays homage to Palestinian women.

You can watch the book trailer on our YouTube Channel "rimalbooks"


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