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Traditional Palestinian Costume Origins and Evolution

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 11.11.2011:

Traditional Palestinian Costume Origins and Evolution

August 2011

By Hanan Karaman Munayyer

Published by Interlink Books, May 2011, 560 pages, $165.00.

This book is a celebration of the enduring Palestinian tradition of embroidery with its rich patterns, colours, and stitches. It contains over 700 superb high-resolution photographs from the pristine Munayyer Collection. Most importantly, it presents research into the ancient history of Palestinian traditional dress and embroidery that has never been published before.

What are the origins of the style of dress, patterns, and stitches? This book presents the most exhaustive and up-to-date study, from antiquity through medieval Arab textile arts to the present. The author’s meticulously documented work regarding the historical evolution of this beautiful art reflects twenty years of research that commenced with scholarly exploration into art history, archaeology, the interpretation of ancient patterns, and the history of costumes and craft in the Middle East over the last 4,000 years. It includes extensive research and the culling of museum resources and publications from around the world. Special attention is paid to the evolution of embroidery in the Arab world from the ninth to the fourteenth centuries. Samples of these ancient embroideries, taken from several museum collections around the world, are included in the book.

This rich textile arts tradition was an important economic component of trade with Europe in the medieval age that left its direct impact on European textile arts and embroidery of the time, as documented in Western museums. Many of the patterns seen on regional embroideries in Europe from the fourteenth to the nineteenth centuries originated from these ancient Arab patterns. After the advent of the Ottoman era in the sixteenth century, this rich Arab textile tradition of weaving and embroidery was incorporated into the Ottoman repertoire of textile skills. The medieval Arab embroidery patterns and stitches were conserved and perpetuated in traditional embroideries of several Arab regions, as seen in contemporary embroideries of Palestine and other regions, such as Syria and Morocco.

Why was this information not more widely known in the Arab world? One of the main reasons is that it had only been presented in specialised academic publications of several Western museums but not shared with the general public or the Arab world. In addition to supplying valuable information about textile history, this research debunks several myths, which originated from unreliable sources, about Palestinian style and old patterns. It also stresses the need for more extensive research into Arab sources of documentation, such as ancient manuscripts and museum textile collections.

The second portion of the book documents the evolution of costume in Palestine from the nineteenth to the early-twentieth centuries, region by region. Extensive full-page and detailed photography features the various embroidered dresses, jackets, veils, headpieces, jewellery, and other items. All regional dress styles of Palestine are represented, including Galilee, Nablus and Jenin, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Jaffa, Lydd and Ramleh, Al-Khalil, Gaza, and Al-Naqab. Attention is paid to regional style evolution, starting from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, including regional accessories. A special chapter focuses on jewellery, another on modern Palestinian embroidery, and yet another on some rare examples of art paintings in Palestine in the mid-twentieth century, part of a growing collection.

This book belongs in every personal library and should be gifted to family, friends, and educational institutions.

For order information, contact the Palestinian Heritage Foundation at

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