When Lina Barkawi began making her first thobe, she had no idea it would turn into a two-year endeavor. Barkawi ended up wearing the handmade dress for her wedding — but the traditional Palestinian outfit that she had meticulously sewed and stitched turned out to represent much more than countless hours of work. It brought into focus her own heritage, an endangered art form, and how she might play a role in preserving it.
Barkawi’s thobe is pale gray with densely embroidered stitches of orange, green, red, and light blue clustered on the front bodice and running down the sleeves and to the ankles. The Palestinian style of embroidery — called tatreez — is the centerpiece of the dress, designed and stitched to represent Barkawi’s heritage and also her personal identity and story. But developing the knowledge and skill to be able to express herself through tatreez wasn’t as easy as finding YouTube tutorials or browsing forums, a typical way people learn a craft or art form.
Palestinian embroidery is a centuries-old art form that’s passed between generations orally, like from mother to daughter or grandmother to granddaughter. But the art form’s survival has become more and more precarious — Israeli militia and settlers have displaced generations of Palestinians, who’ve fled or were expelled from their land. The dispossession has made handmade tatreez more and more rare and harder yet for Palestinians like Barkawi to discover and learn from. In that dearth, Palestinians are creating communal resources and digital spaces for each other in an attempt to digitize and reclaim the art form.
“I was super frustrated with the idea that there were not that many resources available to construct my own dress from scratch,” Barkawi says. “I found that to be really upsetting because it’s something so