Identity: Embroidery:Widad Kawar

01.Embroidery:Widad Kawar

Ms. Widad Kawar has amassed an extensive collection of dresses, costumes, textiles, and jewelry over the past 45 years, seeking to preserve a culture that has been largely dispersed by conflict.

She with affection and passion has sought to encourage a cultural understanding of the Arab ethnic identity and to preserve its rich heritage with her documented collection.


Without her knowledge, enthusiasm, and willingness to share, much of what is now known would be lost to mankind. It is a continuation of this desire to encourage research that she has set up a resource center to encourage scholars, students, and any others with an interest in this heritage to come and study with access to her fine library, data base of her collection, articles, photo archive, in addition to the costumes and accessories themselves.


Her Profile

Kawar studied at the American University of Beirut. Kawar has made her collection available for public viewing and has mounted exhibits of Palestinian dress around the world. She has written many books on Palestinian embroidery and is seeking to establish a Gallery of Cultural Embroidery. Recently, she collaborated with Margaret Skinner on A Treasury of Stitches: Palestinian Embroidery Motifs, 1850-1950 (Rimal/Melisende

Her Story

Many years ago I was given two traditional costumes as a present. I was already interested in the textiles and jewelry, but I never thought that one day this present would grow to be the one of the largest collections of costumes from Palestine and Jordan. I grew up in Bethlehem and studied in Ramallah, both of these cities were treasures of heritage and traditional styles. Both were weaving and embroidery centers and marketed their products to the woman of other villages.

I saw and felt the influence of the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 on the people. The beautiful picture I had of the village women dressed up in their best costumes and coming in groups to the market in Bethlehem had vanished. Because their village had been occupied and/or wiped out these women and their families were settled in refugee camps – facing a new style of life and a new “camp culture”.

This situation encouraged me to put forth a strong effort to collect costumes with information about them from their owners.
After the war of 1967, I faced a new reality – all villages in Palestine were now occupied and I had to double my efforts to collect genuine pieces before they were lost or influenced by the refugee camp styles.

Living in Amman I became attracted to the interesting Jordanian costumes. In general the costumes in Jordan were unique and spectacular and were disappearing from use very quickly. I started collecting samples with documentation.

I was fascinated by the beauty of all the costumes i found, but even more interested in the women behind the dresses.

Through my countless interviews with women in villages and cities I got to know them well and know their position in the family, their changing roles, their attachment to their heritage and their patience and endurance to keep the family together under all kinds of stress.

The women whose heritage I have collected remain my inspiration. They have honored me by sharing their sad and happy memories of the past with me. They inspired me to pass on their rich cultural heritage to future generations.