For years Noora Husseini had loved her grandmother’s stories and it is this love that led her to find a way of documenting and retelling these tales.
Noora set out to show that Palestine is in fact full of “rich and beautiful history as well as a colourful culture”, which is what Taita Leila project is all about.
The project brings together Palestinian history through a different language: The language of thread. The core idea of the project is to produce modern clothing inspired by traditional Palestinian dress as well as revive and restyle the embroidery.
The first thing that draws attention to the project is its name: Taita Leila. Taita is an Arabic term of endearment for grandmother and Leila is the lady who is the inspiration behind the project.
Her full name is Leila Hussein Fakhri Khalidi, author of “The Art of Palestinian Embroidery” that retells the stories of old traditional dresses from Palestine.
Leila left Jerusalem in 1946 and wasn’t allowed back into what became a divided city. “I left from West Jerusalem and since [then] I only saw East Jerusalem,” Leila explains. Living in Beirut, she became the head librarian at the Palestinian Liberation Organisation Research Centre and headed a research unit for Folklore and Folk Arts and Crafts.
The unique aspect of Taita Leila is that everything about and associated with the project breathes Palestine; clothes are entirely made in Palestine, fabrics are sourced from local factories or vendors in the region, women are employed to hand-embroider the designs, even their website was developed in Gaza.
Traditional dress varies considerably depending on region, class, status and taste. This language of threads hides interesting stories about the people in this area.
Those behind the Taita Leila project want to tell these stories. For example Jerusalem – Leila’s hometown – did not really have a “thoub” (traditional dress) because it was a metropolis so people adopted modern dress.
The type of costume found there was either very modern, reminiscent of early 20th century New York or influenced from Ottoman dress.
Nablus, on the other hand, did not have a lot of embroidery because people were too busy working in the fields and this is where the famous Palestinian saying “I am not working so I embroider” comes from.
These are precisely the kind of stories that Taita Leila tells through their designs.