Learning Tatreez and Honoring Palestine – a Journey of Healing, Preservation & Resistance
Nov 3, 2021
Danah Shuli engaging in tatreez
Passion projects can be a coping mechanism, a healing journey, a medium that allows one to find themselves again after a life changing incident or a loss of an identity for one reason or the other. For me, the driving force behind my learning tatreez (a type of cross stitch) was the former – a healing journey I am still on to find peace and happiness again in whatever form that may take on in this new reality my family and I are living.
Although it is a healing journey, my passion for learning tatreez is also intertwined with my heritage and identity as a Palestinian woman and the urgency to preserve it. It is also married to an urge to honor my loved ones legacies that have departed this world and are with their Lord.
Tatreez is the Palestinian cross stitch, a form of embroidery, that is a centuries old artform. It is the trademark of the Palestinian woman. It embellishes our thobe, the traditional Palestinian costume and dress. It is our form of self expression when our voice is silenced by our colonizer, and we are suffocated by the hardships of this life.
In tatreez, there are countless motifs, designs, that were once created by Palestinian women inspired by their surroundings in nature and symbols portraying their beliefs. The alignment of each motif and the colors used narrate the stories of the embroiderer. There is depth and meaning intertwined with the intricate beauty of each shape and hue. Learning tatreez and teaching it to my family and others has been my personal journey in honoring the legacy of my ancestors, especially my loved ones who passed last year, and bridging a connection to my roots as a third-generation Palestinian living in the diaspora.
The author and her tatreez materials.
My Personal Palestinian Connection to Tatreez
My personal story with tatreez started after the passing of my mother-in-law and maternal grandfather last fall, may Allah (S) grant them the highest levels of Jannah (paradise) and have mercy on their souls, Ameen. My mother-in-law, who was a talented seamstress and embroiderer, loved to keep her hands busy with thread and fabric when she had the time, which was rare. But, she made sure to always squeeze in a project.
Her dream was to teach my daughter, her granddaughter, how to sew and do tatreez. After her passing I took it upon myself to learn this art form in order to teach my daughter the skill that her grandmother didn’t get the chance to pass on to her. I was tasked with cleaning out my mother-in-law’s sewing room and found a plethora of materials that were ready to be put to use. Her kind and generous spirit still lives on and continues to give, Alhamdulillah.
I grew up listening to my maternal grandfather, my Sido, telling my sisters and I the stories of his childhood in our village in Palestine, Sebastia, Nablus. He would describe it in a way that made us feel like we were there, showing us his maps and collection of photographs. He spoke to us about what the village life was like and the incidents that led him to start a family outside of his homeland. It was as though he was documenting his existence, his form of resistance to the occupation that forced him to flee his beloved home.
Sido was also a talented tailor and handyman. There was never a time that he did not have a clever fix to a problem around the house. He hemmed my clothes during my visits overseas. He was a man of many talents, and his love for Palestine has inspired my siblings and my mom to continue digging into our family history and learn more about our village and city.
The author drawing out a tatreez design.
Although my paternal grandmother passed away two years ago, there is not a day that goes by that I don’t long for our phone calls, her funny stories and her contagious laugh. My connection with her through tatreez is a little bit different than my mother-in-law and grandfather. My grandmother, Teta, left behind a thobe during one of her visits. I preserved the tatreez, and redesigned the thobe using new fabrics to reimagine her dress. This was (and still is) a customary practice in order to make use of the valuable embroidery and replace the tethered fabric with new and modern textiles.
Through my tatreez learning journey, I have found a source of calm and peace. I have found a source of constant du’a and connection to my loved ones. My tatreez time is a form of self care that I cherish and take pride in. It is a labor of love, patience, acceptance of Allah’s (S) will and a reminder that this life is so fragile and temporary, but the legacy and beautiful memory you leave behind is lasting.
Creating Tatreez for Charity As a Resistance to Oppression
During the recent political upheaval and revolution that happened in Palestine this summer, Tatreez for Charity, a project where I demonstrate how to do tatreez, was born. From the comfort of my own home, I felt helpless and useless watching my people continue to get oppressed, brutalized and murdered. I wanted to do something in my own capacity that would make a difference, even if it was small, in the lives of those at the forefront of our fight for freedom.
I began offering monthly Tatreez for Charity virtual classes where I demonstrate how to embroider a traditional motif while also discussing my background and healing journey through tatreez. I also educate participants on the history of tatreez, it’s forms and other topics that come up during our conversations while stitching. Proceeds of the classes are donated to various trusted charities within (and outside of) Palestine. If you would like to sign up for a Tatreez for Charity class, keep an eye out on my instagram page as well as joining the mailing list to stay up to date on future classes.
The author teaching her Tatreez for Charity class online.
I wanted to connect with my people in a way that will cause a ripple effect in generations to come. I wanted to plant a seed in others in order to continue educating on the situation in Palestine as well as preserving a sacred artform and teaching it to others. Tatreez is very much a communal art form: Women would gather for tea and teach each other various strategies and motifs. Mothers taught daughters, grandmothers taught granddaughters, aunts taught nieces, and neighbors shared with each other. We are all students of tatreez.
The only way Palestine will never be forgotten and Palestinians will continue to exist is if we pass down our traditions and history to our children and future generations. Our existence is our resistance. As a mother, I now see the urgency my parents and grandparents had to instill a love for Palestine in me and my sibling. In recent months, this passion to connect with my heritage has also become a passion to keep my loved one’s legacy alive, an opportunity to keep them company through a du’a or a donation in their name through Tatreez for Charity.
Tatreez is an opportunity to stay connected with them until we meet again, in the best of places. It’s an opportunity to heal and invite happiness and closure in my life in order to continue to carry on for myself and my family.
Do you have a passion project that helps you stay connected to your heritage? Share with us in the comments below!
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