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A Review of

Palestinian Costumes & Embroidery:
A Precious Legacy

by Palestinian Heritage Foundation

 

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Summary

 

Overall Rating: StarStarStarStar (on a scale of 1 to 5 stars)

 

This is a half-hour documentary on traditional women's clothing of Palestine, with emphasis on the elaborately embroidered dresses characteristic of the region.

Why I gave it 4 stars:

  • The information about the dresses and the embroidery designs used on them is excellent, but I would have expected a video with the word "costumes" in the subject line to include more information about the headdresses and pants.
  • Production quality is superb: the lighting, the sound, the camera work. Not once does the production quality detract from the information being presented.
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What Shira.net Users Think

 
1) How would you rate Palestinian Costumes and Embroidery?
Absolutely fantastic!
Definitely would recommend it.
Good enough to be worth the money, but not special
Disappointing, but had at least a little value
Nothing good about it at all
 

The above poll includes responses submitted since October 28, 2002.

Note: Shira has a policy against video producers asking their students, family, and friends to pad the votes, or campaigning for favorable votes through their web sites. Click here for detailed information about the policy.

 

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Fact Sheet

Subject Matter Traditional embroidered dresses of Palestine
Overall Rating StarStarStarStar
Production Quality StarStarStarStarStar
Content Value StarStarStarStar
Total Video Length 34:47 minutes
Time Devoted to Information 32:03 minutes (92%)
Time Devoted to "Other" 2:44 minutes (8%)
List Price as of June 9, 2009* $25 for NTSC, $40 for PAL
Price Per Minute 78 cents (NTSC), $1.25 (PAL)
Price for "Other" $2.00 (NTSC), $3.20 (PAL)

* Pricing information was current as of the date indicated above, but may have changed since then. Please contact the video producer for the most current pricing information.

* The prices shown above apply to those purchases who are acquiring personal copies for viewing in their homes. Prices for institutional use such as lending libraries, dance studios, and other institutions are higher.

 

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Description

This half-hour video is a documentary about traditional women's clothing and embroidery designs of Palestine. Narrated by Maha Munayyer, it opens with her describing the preparations a Palestinian bride would have gone through for her wedding - weaving the fabric for her wedding dress, doing the embroidery, etc. This is followed by a 1-minute tableau depicting the bride, the groom, and the bride's friends dancing to Middle Eastern music while dressed in traditional clothing.

The primary substance of the video comes next. In a 20-minute segment, Munayyer moves from region to region of Palestine, describing the local variations style of clothing typical of each. The tour covers Bethlemen, Jerusalem, Hebron, Jaffa, Galilee, Majdal, Gaza, and the southern desert. In all cases, she speaks strictly of women's clothing, particularly describing the dress style and the traditional embroidery designs typical of that region. For the northwest, she also describes a little about the shalwar worn under the yelek, and for the southern desert region she notes that this was the only area in Palestine where veils covering the face were used. Most of the dresses shown in the video are from the early 20th century, around the 1920's, although a few are newer. In most cases, the narrative does identify the age of the dresses modeled.

The descriptions of the dresses and the local variations in embroidery is excellent. The video covers color, what the fabric is made of, how the embroidery designs have been altered over the 20th century with the coming of European influence, and more. I find the narrative to be very informative on the subject of the embroidery, and I'm very pleased to have found such a valuable resource on this topic. Although there are a number of books about Palestinian dresses, the still photos on the printed page lack the vitality of seeing the dress on video.

However, despite this praise, the video is not quite perfect. Its title had led me to expect that it would contain information on Palestinian clothing in general, including not only the legendary dresses, but also other garments. However, very little is said about the headdresses, and only once does the video discuss what type of pants (if any) were worn underneath the dresses. Nothing is said at all about traditional footwear. It leaves me feeling hungry, wanting more. That lack of information about headdresses, pants, and male clothing is why I give this video only four stars instead of five. Admittedly, the dresses with their incredible detailed embroidery designs are the most compelling characteristic of Palestinian attire, so I agree with the decision to focus on them, and I wouldn't want to withdraw any of the time that is spent discussing them. I just feel the video would have been stronger if it had devoted an additional 10-15 minutes to cover the additional topics.

The display of the dresses is done very well. With Palestinian music playing softly in the background, the women modeling the dresses do low-key simple Oriental dance moves and take turns coming forward to show their dresses. Voiceover narration by Munayyer describes what to look for on the dress of each model as she comes forward, with appropriate camera closeups zooming in to show the embroidery detail. I find that the combination of music, dance, and narrative is an extremely effective way to organize the display of the dresses. The choice to use live models makes for a much more compelling video than dresses hung on mannequins would have been. The music and dancing adds a lively taste of culture that merely walking and turning would not have done.

The final section of the video, about 6 1/2 minutes long, looks at the history of these dresses. It shows examples of ancient art from Egypt, Assyria, and other parts of the region depicting ancient Canaanite people wearing clothing featuring these embroidery designs, and shows how the cut of the clothing evolved over time. Any woman interested in wearing Palestinian-style clothing for historical re-enactment events such as Renaissance Faire or Society for Creative Anachronism will find this section useful. Although the historical clothing pictured comes from ancient times, it's reasonable to conclude that if a given embroidery design was used in ancient Egypt and still used on clothing from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, then it's probably reasonable to conclude it was also used during the Medieval and Renaissance periods that these enactment groups depict.

 

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Is It Right for You?

 

You Will Probably Enjoy This Video If

  • You are interested in the folk dances of the LevantĀ (such as debke) and you would like to learn about the corresponding traditional clothing.
  • You would like to view the Palestinian people in terms of their culture, rather than in terms of news headlines.
  • You're researching historical garb of the Middle East.
  • You like to view clothing as wearable art.
  • You appreciate intricate embroidery.
  • You're involved in historical re-enactment groups such as Society for Creative Anachronism or Renaissance Faire guilds and you'd like to create historically-correct women's garb for the Palestinian region.

 

This Video Probably Isn't Right for You If

  • You're researching men's attire.
  • You are not interested in historical women's clothing.
  • You are not interested in the folk arts of Palestine.
  • You're looking for instructions on making Palestinian-flavored dance costumes.
  • You're seeking information on how to assemble a complete ensemble in the Palestinian style of attire.

 

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What I Liked, What I Didn't

 

What I Liked:

  • The many beautifully-embroidered dresses showcased on this video are a feast for the eyes.
  • This video serves as an excellent introduction to the fabulous traditional embroidered dresses of Palestine. It provides detailed information about the embroidery designs unique to each region and the colors used in that region.
  • The dresses are modeled by women who do a bit of low-key dancing to Palestinian music as they take turns coming forward to show the detail of their dresses.
  • The narrative identifies which embroidery designs emerged in the 20th century as a result of European influence.
  • The production quality is superb. The lighting, sound quality, and camera angles are all done so well that I never once found myself distracted from enjoying the information being presented.
  • In the historical section, the video traces the evidence from historical times demonstrating that the style of dress and the embroidery designs date back to the eras of ancient Egypt and Assyria.

 

What I Didn't Like:

  • I wish this video would have contained some information about men's clothing. At the beginning, it shows a man portraying the groom. Unfortunately, it offers no narrative about his garb and shows him only briefly.
  • I would have liked more information about the headdresses.
  • I would have liked more information about which regions wore pants and which did not, and if they did wear them, what style they were. There was a little information about this for northern Palestine, but nothing for the other regions.

 

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In Conclusion

There are a number of books available that discuss embroidered Palestinian clothing, but to my knowledge this is the only video on the subject. When studying historical garments, it's always helpful to see how the garment moves, so it's valuable to have this information in video form.

I would gladly recommend this video to anyone who is interested in the traditional dresses of Palestine. The information it presents offers a great resource for women involved in historical re-enactment who would like to portray characters from this region. Dancers interested in performing debke may find this video useful as a reference on one type of clothing that would be ethnically appropriate.

If you're interested in men's garb, or if you want to know more about the women's headdresses, pants, and shoes, you won't learn much from this video. But if you're starting from the position of knowing nothing about clothing from this region, this video will provide a solid introduction.

I wish this video would have been longer. It's only a half hour in length, which constrains how much ground it can cover. The producers have done a fine job of making good use of the available time, and have presented the information in an easy-to-digest format. It leaves me hungry for more.

The price per minute for this video is in line with typical pricing for documentaries in the field of Middle Eastern music, dance, and culture.

 

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Disclosure

There is nothing to disclose. I purchased this video from the producer at the normal price, and have had no other contact with them.

 

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To Buy It

Contact Information

Contact the Palestinian Heritage Foundation as follows:

Palestinian Heritage Foundation
P.O. Box 531
West Caldwell, NJ 07007-0531
U.S.A.

Phone: (+1) (908) 740 5583
E-Mail: PALHERF@aol.com

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Related Articles

Articles on this web site related to traditional garb that you may find helpful include:

 

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