Spotlight on Bedouin Embroidery

Spotlight on Bedouin Embroidery

We're thrilled to feature this guest post by Ibtisam Alhirsch, founder of the Albustan Center, about the Bedouin women who make the gorgeous embroidered items we're fortunate to offer. The Albustan (garden or orchard) Center serves the women and children of the Jahalin tribe now living in the Alazariyya village in East Jerusalem in the West Bank.

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Palestinian embroidery is a special and unique artform, passed down from grandmothers to daughters in both Bedouin and Fallahi (villager) societies in Palestine. Embroidery was mainly used for the traditional dresses and pillows. Bedouin girls would make their own wedding dresses by themselves, years before their marriage. They used to use linen or cotton fabrics and the natural silk was stained by natural herbs or plants. But in the mid-20th century they begun importing coloured threads from Europe. 

The different patterns and colors of the dress represent the status of women (bride, widow, divorced or single). And the embroidered patterns also differ from one region to the other. The five basic patterns in Palestine are from Jaffa region, Hebron, Be’er Sheva, Ramallah, Gaza and Sinai (from Egypt but similar). The designs symbolize things from nature like pine trees, palm trees, wheat ears, stars and flowers. Later they started to add some patterns that came from Europe, like birds and animals. The most popular color used is red. 

After the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe) in 1948, where Palestinian families became refugees, women in refugee camps started to use embroidery not only for private use but to make pieces to sell and earn an income to help their families.

Here in the Jahalin camp in Alazariyya village (East Jerusalem), Bedouin women have continued this craft, passed down from their grandmothers who were evicted in 1948 from the Negev. They’ve combined the Be’er Sheva pattern that their grandmothers taught them with what they’ve learned from the area they live in now. 

After the second eviction of the Jahalin tribe (between 1997-2001), the community have been forced to abandon a Bedouin lifestyle and live a modern urban life. Jahalin women have maintained the tradition of embroidery but with new and modern products like purses, tote bags, laptop cases and fanny packs. This project has also helped bring funds to build a new Albustan community center. With the help of Al Bustan community center, housewives who want to earn some money and help their family, can spend time stitching while the kids play and learn at the community center. 

For Jahalin Bedouin society in this area, embroidery is the last part of their identity which they have not lost. 

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