In rural areas, women’s dress is traditionally richly adorned with embroidery. There can be differences per region or even per village. The basic cloth is coloured black or white. The embroidery is made up of threaded cross-stitches, the colours varying per region: red (Ramallah), ochre (Hebron), lilac (Gaza) and blue (Sinai). However, the geometric embroidery motifs display large variations: the palm tree leaf (Ramallah), the cypress in various styles (Ramallah, Jaffa, Hebron), a pendant (Gaza), an amulet (Jaffa), or the ‘pasha’s tent’ (Hebron). Recently married women wear bright colours, widows in mourning dark colours. Embroidery is a living art, subject to changes in motifs and use of colours.
Embroidery is a skill which was passed down from mother to daughter. With the rise of Palestinian nationalism, the production of traditional Palestinian clothing migrated from the rural areas to the cities. Far away from home, in the refugee camps outside of Palestine, women continue to uphold this traditional skill, meticulously using the same colour and embroidery motifs of their region of origin.
Today, the older women still wear traditional embroidered dresses in everyday life. Young women, however, generally regard them as party dresses. In homes, numerous items such as cushions, address books, and tissue boxes are also adorned with embroidered covers. The tables are covered with embroidered cloths and framed examples of fine embroidery sometimes hang on the walls. Christians often depict Biblical scenes in their embroidery.
In the past decades, numerous centres have been founded in Palestine and the refugee camps dedicated to preserving the art of embroidery. Nationalist motives especially played a role here since these centres assist in the preservation of the Palestinian identity in dire circumstances. Moreover, the production of embroidery has become a source of income for women whose husbands are unemployed or in prison.
In contrast to Christians, Muslim women wear a hijab (headscarf) or a large veil outdoors or in the presence of those other than their direct family. This applies especially to women in rural areas and women who have migrated from rural areas to the cities. Many women wear a dress (jilbab) reaching from the shoulders to the ankles, sometimes topped with a vest or jacket. It is uncommon for women to wear the niqab (veil) in the streets (although Bedouin women do wear a veil). Young females, however, usually wear western clothing. But again, changes are occurring in the light of the ‘re-Islamization‘ of society.