Tatreez and Tea

Embroidery as storytelling in the Palestinian diaspora
embroidery as storytelling

Tatreez and Tea

When I was little, my mother and grandmother attempted to teach me cross-stitch embroidery. I remember very well the endless counting and recounting of the pattern, the frustration when I had miscounted and need to undo most of my stitches due to a mistake in the beginning, the art of using as little thread as possible (so no easy long-hauls at the back of the cloth…) and my happiness at the final result. It has been ages since I last picked up needle and thread, but I came across a wonderful book that really makes me want to start again!

The art of Palestinian cross-stitch embroidery is called tatreez, and it is infinitely more than just handicraft. Tatreez is both storytelling and affirming identity. Because it always has been a form of storytelling for hundreds of years, embroidery is the ultimate medium to keep telling and sharing the history of a people and of a nation. In her book Tatreez and Tea, author Wafa Ghnaim combines all of these aspects in a very personal way.

Embroidered dresses document history, tradition and a way of life. By teaching her daughter to embroider, a mother would also transfer all of her knowledge to the next generation. This could be practical knowledge, like how to deal with scorpions and snakes. The Snakes design holds no fewer than 5 lessons to be learned, and the Scorpions design teaches the same aspects that I learned during archaeological fieldwork in Egypt. By means of nature, other concepts such as love and faith are illustrated as well. Ways of life are for example communicated through a beautiful design called Wheat Harvest, reflecting the importance of wheat, bread and hospitality.

This book however is far more than just an illustration of embroidery. Mixed in with every description of a pattern or a dress is the authors’ own family history. This makes this book all the more personal to read and places dress and adornment squarely where it belongs, at the heart of a people and a nation. Embroidery is not just decorative or an art on the sidelines of life: embroidering keeps Palestinian culture alive and communicates its longterm and recent history. From the Cleopatra design to the Intifada and Missile designs, embroidery serves to affirm identity.

I thoroughly recommend this book for anyone who would like to learn more about tatreez, its place in the Palestinian diaspora and the agency of dress and adornment. With over 400 pages, dozens of design patterns, terminology and techniques, tea, coffee and quince preserve recipes and personal history over several generations, this is a cultural treasure trove.

Tatreez and Tea. Embroidery and Storytelling in the Palestinian Diaspora. 428 pages. Read more about the book, classes, lectures etc on the website of Tatreez and Tea.

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The book was purchased directly from Wafa.