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 traditional art to her daughter Wafa Ghnaim, who began assisting her mother in her work 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 through nonprofit organizations, universities and public schools. Feryal has taught Palestinian embroidery for 38 years through lectures, apprenticeships and demonstrations she has held from coast-to-coast. 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 the book in seven months, and published it in November 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 in June 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 an endangered textile tradition 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.
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. Embroiderers 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.
Tatreez & Tea intends to honor the legacy of Palestinian women who, for hundreds of years, created stunningly rich textiles that has become a symbol of identity for Palestinians all over the world.