“When I embroider, I feel close to my homeland.”
- Feryal Abbasi-Ghnaim
Palestinian tatreez embroidery…
…is a centuries-old folk art, traditionally passed from mother to daughter over a cup of tea. In the same tradition, Palestinian embroiderer Feryal Abbasi-Ghnaim passed on the endangered art to her three daughters at a very young age. Her second daughter, Wafa Ghnaim, began assisting her mother on embroidery projects at age two.
Feryal is a trained art teacher, who has been teaching embroidery since the 1970’s when she led the art curricula development for UNRWA at the Yarmook Refugee Camp in Irbid, Jordan and Damascus, Syria for twelve years. After Feryal immigrated with her husband to the United States, she continued teaching Palestinian embroidery for the next 40 years for nonprofit organizations, community events, universities and public schools. Feryal’s lifetime dedication to preserving Palestinian embroidery earned her a 2018 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow, as the first Palestinian woman to receive this honor by the United States government.
Tatreez & Tea began in 2015, when Wafa set out to write a book that preserved the meanings and patterns of fifteen designs she and her sisters spent their lives learning about. Wafa was awarded funding in 2016 by the Brooklyn Arts Council, Regional Arts & Culture Council and Clackamas County Cultural Coalition to complete the digital book project titled, Tatreez & Tea: Embroidery and Storytelling in the Palestinian Diaspora. Wafa wrote and self-published the book in seven months, releasing it on November 16, 2016. In 2017, Wafa was awarded additional funding by the Brooklyn Arts Council and Clackamas County Cultural Coalition to complete an expanded, revised, second edition in print, which was self-published on June 30, 2018.
While Tatreez & Tea began as a book project, in 2017 it quickly grew into a national initiative that has sent Wafa on an embroidery journey teaching Palestinian embroidery to diaspora communities in the United States and beyond. Wafa founded Tatreez & Tea to ensure that traditional Palestinian embroidery motifs and meanings are preserved; skills are passed down to the next generation of diaspora Palestinians; and to publicly lay claim to a sacred textile tradition that is at risk of being culturally appropriated.
Tatreez & Tea, the book and initiative, asserts that learning and practicing the techniques Palestinian ancestors utilized in their embroidery brings diaspora Palestinians spiritually closer to their family, homeland and culture. Tatreez & Tea also asserts that diaspora embroidery carries a meaning and history of its own, and that the dominant framework for understanding Palestinian embroidery motifs through its village origination is not sufficient in understanding the embroidery traditions carried on outside of Palestine by Palestinian artists.
The motion of embroidering the cross-stitch — pulling the threaded needle through the fabric in a meditative repetition — summons a powerful legacy of all Palestinian women who once did the same. Students and embroiderers in the diaspora can therefore resurrect and honor the legacy of Palestinian grandmothers, Palestinian great grandmothers, and Palestinian great, great grandmothers who once embroidered in their garden, at home, in Palestine. When Palestinians embroider, they are instantly transported through time, place and space to a simple, peaceful moment of creation and craft, beyond just through the village origination of the motif.
Tatreez & Tea intends to honor the legacy of all Palestinian women who, for hundreds of years, produced rich textiles that have become a symbol of identity for Palestinians all over the world.