Bethlehem Malak Dress 

The early Bethlehem bridal Malak dress was made of silk and linen fabric with embroidered red, orange or yellow and green taffeta on the sleeves and side panels. The chest, sleeves, cuffs and side panels of the dress are embroidered in couching stitch (tahriri) using silver, gold and silk cords. On the sleeves, the center panel is usually red with yellow panel on each side, while on the side panel the center panel is green with a red panel on each side. The chest panel is densely couched with patterns mainly in gold cord that completely obscures the background material.

 The Bethlehem embroidery was developed in Bethlehem and the surrounding villages of Beit Sahur and Beit Jala. It is unique to these villages and different from the predominant cross-stitch embroidery used in the other regions of Palestine.

 The fabric of the Bethlehem dress (malak or Ikhdari) was woven locally or in other parts of Palestine. Being a market center for the surrounding villages, the Bethlehem couching embroidery was adopted on the Jerusalem area dresses, usually made of silk fabric imported from Syria or velvet fabric imported from Europe or produced locally.

Eventually, the Bethlehem couching embroidery became in demand to add to cross-stitched dresses of other regions of Palestine, namely, Ramallah, Hebron and the Jaffa and Lydda regions.

 Women of other villages in the Jaffa and Lydda regions later produced imitation of the Bethlehem embroidery known as rasheq.

The Bethlehem headdress, Shatweh, whose front is covered with rows of coins, beads and coral was worn by married women of three neighboring villages, Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahur,. Unmarried women wore instead, a small circular embroidered cap (taqiyyeh) similar to the one worn in Jerusalem. Nineteenth century shatwehs were low and wide in shape, sparsely embroidered, and with few silver coins. In the 1920s, shatwehs became narrower but higher.

Shatwehs were made in stages: first, the broadcloth was embroidered, then it was padded and lined , then stuffed, and finally the coins, beads and corals were attached to the front. The embroidery on the sides of the shatweh are usually in herringbone and gold thread couching, yet the ear pieces and the padded roll on the crown are embroidered in cross-stitch. The chin chain (iznaq) worn with the shatweh can have five or seven chains (sab’ irwah) with a floral or star shaped ornament or a cross for Christian women.

In the nineteenth century, a rare and very festive veil was worn in Bethlehem. It was made of two pieces of very fine linen fabric joined lengthways, with delicate embroidery in stem stitch and broken running stitch forming a narrow border on all four sides of the veil with matching multi colored fringe at both ends.A more simpler shawl worn by Bethlehem women was the Shambar.

The festive Bethlehem Taqsireh was the most beautiful jacket worn in Palestine. The earlier jackets were made of woolen broadcloth (jukh) in red, blue, green or brown.  The embroidery was in couching stitch using silk metal (qasab) thread. In the mid 1920s, velvet replaced the broadcloth and jackets were made in navy blue or purple colors velvet. The taqsireh had short sleeves through which the pointed sleeves of the Malak dress were pulled.

For every day use, the Bethlehem area women wore a sleeveless woolen coat (bisht) instead of the taqsireh. The bisht, striped in red and brown or in red and black, was made from wool hand woven in Bethlehem.

The girdle used in this area (Ishdad or hizam) was made in Bethlehem of wool fabric in either pink or blue colors. Pink was usually worn by girls while the blue was worn by older women or those in mourning.