On the UN Micro-, Small, and Medium-sized Enterprises Day, we highlight the efforts of a local home business that has empowered women outside of Qatar.
Beyond its vibrant colours and distinct patterns, Palestinian embroidery has long stood as a key form of resistance under the ongoing illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine.
The art succeeds at telling stories, embodies Palestinian heritage and inspires many people around the world—especially Palestinians who continue to ensure the exquisite patterns are present at every occasion possible.
And inspiration was the starting point for Dua Hussein to establish her home business, Ibret Sama (Sama’s Needle), from her residence in Qatar.
“The Palestinian thobe as a whole is like gold, it gets more expensive the older it gets. You can pass it on to your daughters and then to your daughter’s daughters. For example, I have a thobe from my mother-in-law, who gave it to my daughter, her granddaughter,” Hussein told Doha News.
Sitting on a couch filled with pillows embraced in embroidery, Hussein spoke to Doha News about her project.
Ibret Sama focuses on offering the people of Qatar a glimpse of the rich Palestinian culture through the thobes (traditional dresses) that are embellished with the patterns from head-to-toe.
Hussein herself is Palestinian from Tulkarem, born in Jerusalem. The business founder pursued her studies at the college of arts at the Jordanian University, before moving to Kuwait and later settling in Qatar.
Inspiration was the incubator for the project, which started off during the peak of the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020 after meeting a Palestinian woman residing in Jordan. The woman runs a small business for the traditional dresses, stitched by Palestinian women.
“I adore Palestinian embroidery and was looking for someone to stitch thobes [traditional dresses] and I was directed to many people. I was told that there was this woman who trains women with families to look after. Those families live in such dire situations,” said Hussein.
The business empowers Palestinian women from different social situations, including widows and retired women who are unable to find jobs and need to feed their families.
“There is a widow that creates wallets and clutches and masha’Allah [what God has willed] was able to get her children to reach the higher education level all because of this work,” explained Hussein.
The idea had developed after seeing the curiosity buyers had in the traditional pieces sold in Doha. During the expansion process, Hussein found support in a Qatari woman at Mahara, an organisation that champions handmade crafts.
Despite the restrictions at the beginning of the pandemic, which impacted the simplest of governmental operations globally, Hussein’s paperwork was processed, allowing her to start the business.
Her colleagues in Jordan were also able to continue working to feed their families throughout the pandemic, allowing Hussein to kickstart her Instagram page to further market her business.
“During COVID days, when everyone was home-bound and not at work, these women were in need of sustenance and so she gave them jobs. They stitch and she keeps their pieces until God enables her to sell them,” said Hussein.
Since the tailor in Jordan does not own a store, her prices are fairly reasonable in comparison to other places that sell thobes. Despite it being an old design, the embroidery on thobes has been modernised, with patterns embroidered on jumpsuits, shoulder-cut shirts amongst other garments.
And regardless of the design, the patterns continue to be passed from one generation to another.
“Those who buy it wear it, then passes it on to her her daughter to wear, then if her daughter is tired of wearing it the embroidery can be turned into other pieces, like an abaya,” explained Hussein.
“We’re talking about frozen assets, a heritage, not just a dress or an abaya that you buy and get bored of later,” she added.
With Palestinian embroidery reaching the world, the United Nations Cultural Agency (UNESCO) listed traditional design on its Intangible Cultural Heritage List in December last year.
Story of a land
The art of Palestinian embroidery has existed for more than 3,000 years and continues to exist despite the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine and Zionist state’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians for more than 70 years.
Each stitch reflects a different part of Palestine and each string delicately embroidered into the fabrics narrates a story.
“The original thobes that they stitched back then were related to the different cities. For example, the coastal cities have birds,” explained Hussein.
Recalling the many patterns she was taught how to recreate, Hussein shared the story of what became widely known as the thobe of bondoqeyeh, worn by women in Jerusalem.
The patterns represent the bondoqeyeh flower in the Palestinian city, reminiscing on the days of the Arab revolt in Palestine in the late 1930’s.
“The revolutionaries used to go to the mountain and come back. During that time, the women used to sit together and come up with ideas for thobes that they can only wear, as wives of the revolutionaries. They took the bondoqeyeh flower and repeated it all over the dress,” she said, noting that the tale was narrated to her by an old Palestinian lady.
As the revolutionaries departed, their wives gathered at one of the women’s houses to stitch up the dresses. The distinct patterns once caught the attention of a woman whose husband did not participate in the revolt, yet financially backed it.
“One day curiosity drove her to see the women and asked if she can join them to create the thobe. They told her she can’t as it only belonged to the wives of the revolutionaries,” said Hussein, adding that the woman eventually succeeded at convincing her husband to partake in the revolt.
Decades later, Hussein continues to carry the stories of Palestine until the present, despite the challenges she has to undertake in the process of establishing a home businesses.
“Alhamdulilah [praise be to Allah] we are in Qatar, a country that provides comfort and offers everyone the chance to develop their talents under the law. May Allah reward Sheikh Tamim, he is serving everyone. What’s important is that you abide by the law,” stressed Hussein.
With her business continuing to grow, Hussein shared a piece of advice: to rely on Allah and for aspiring business creators to accept any losses, given that they are part of success.
“What’s important is that you have a clear goal that they want to reach, rely on Allah and other parts require a lot of time and effort,” said Hussein.
The Palestinian business owner also hopes that the art expands to educational institutions, where it is taught to students as a subject on its own.
“I hope that Palestinian embroidery reaches every household in the Middle East. I hope that people go back to history books and teach a university course on Palestinian embroidery, it is not less important than any other arts course. It is not given the attention it deserves,” she said.