Palestinian Thobe Identity

Garments in Palestine idenfies the region of the women wearing it.

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Until the end of the British Mandate in 1948, the garment was one of the features that indicated regional identity.

The most distinguished regions in this respect were the Galilee in the north; Nablus, Jaffa, and Ramallah in the centre; and Bethlehem, Jerusalem, the Hebron hills, Majdel, the Gaza Strip, and the Negev in the south. Each of these regions had its own embroidery techniques and motifs.

The most popular women's ceremonial attire in the Galilee consisted mainly of trousers, a very fine muslin robe that was worn beneath an open coat (jillayeh), and for headgear, a hat decorated with coins. The jillayeh is characterized by its short sleeves and the patched appliqué (iqat) on the front and side panels. Geometric motifs were embroidered in cross-stitch on the back. The ceremonial sirwal was often embroidered on either white or indigo linen with motifs that resembled those of the jillayeh.

The dress of the Nablus region was much simpler than the others. Some researchers attribute this to the fact that women in the Nablus region had less time to embroider because they were too involved in agricultural work. Early examples of the Nablus dress show that embroidery was done on locally woven white linen, with green and red silk stripes that signified hell and heaven. It is very rare to find any embroidery on the wing-like sleeves, the side panel, or the back panels of the Nablus dress.

The costumes of the Jaffa and Ramallah regions had many similarities in terms of fabric colour and motif distribution. Both used black, indigo, or white linen with geometric and floral motifs. The Ramallah dress contained abstract pictorials of the tall palm, the leech, stars, birds, and the Ramallah moon. In the western regions of Jaffa, Ramleh, and Lod, the cypress-tree and almond-blossom motifs are dominant.

The Bethlehem and Jerusalem garments can be distinguished by their fabrics, motifs, and couching techniques. The couched motifs, commonly known as watches (
sa'aat), are representations of the tree of life. The Malak dress, which refers to the dress that must not be washed, is known as the royal dress of Bethlehem. Another distinguishing factor for costumes embroidered in the villages of Bethlehem and Jerusalem is the variety of Syrian fabrics that were used to make the thob. Such distinctive, silk-mounted fabrics are striped with yellow, red, or gold.

At some stage, women from other regions sought the help of the Bethlehem embroiderers to introduce the couching technique into their own costumes. Such a welcome intervention can be clearly seen on the reputable dresses of Beit Dajan and on the famous
jillayeh of the Hebron hills. Furthermore, the Bethlehem artisans excelled in making embroidered mini-jackets and the finely embroidered hat that was harmoniously decorated with coral, gold and silver coins, silver bracelets, and the 'seven-souls' chokers.

The villages of Hebron are as distinctive as the others in the world of Palestinian embroidery. Women in the Hebron region embroidered handkerchiefs, belts, head veils, cushions, and
jillayehs. The most famous villages in this respect are Idna, Samou'u, Iraq al Manshiyeh, Beit 'Ummar, Deir Samit, Bani-Na'im, Beit Jibrin, Dahriyyeh, and Dura.

The motifs used in these districts were illustrated by several types of stitching that included couching, the cross and satin stitches, and the running stitch. In addition, the appliqué technique was broadly used on the front of the wedding
jillayeh. The motifs on the white wedding veil were mirror images of those on the dark or indigo jillayeh.

What distinguishes the Gaza costume (
zainiyeh) from that of neighbouring Hebron is the colour application, the motif distribution, and the fabric type. The motifs known as 'amulet', 'butterfly', and 'comb' of the Gaza dress are predominantly purple, whereas the motifs in its Hebron counterpart are predominantly maroon or red. The cloth for the Gaza thob was traditionally woven in nearby Majdel, either on white cotton, in the case of the very old examples, or on black or blue cotton striped with mauve and green linen.

The Bedouin style of the Negev is different from that of the villages. The main difference is the embroidery on the front panel of the dress and the use of the cross stitch only. It is maintained that Bedouins embroider the front panel of the dress as a way to show respect to others. The face veil (
burquo') and the back head veil (quna'a) represent the main distinction between the two in terms of overall appearance.

The traditional Palestinian dress, or thoub, is notable for its exceptional embroidered designs, which appear in panels on the chest, sides, sleeves, and at the hem. The block of embroidery on the chest is the main attraction of these dresses, and it is said to protect the wearer from evil, bad lack, and poor health. The thoub is made by stitching each panel individually first, and then sewing them all together into the final product.

Also notable for the fact that it mainly uses just one stitch, Palestinian embroidery is differentiated by its pattern, and patterns vary by region. In other words, a pattern from Bethlehem differs from that of Jerusalem and Gaza, and so on. Therefore, the home town of a Palestinian woman could be identified simply by the pattern on her dress. Commonly, the patterns are geometrical, but they may also include images such as flowers, trees, or houses, among others.

Extracted from:


2-         An article of Khader Musleh of



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