At Sulafa Embroidery Center in Gaza, Palestine, hundreds of female refugees produce modern, embroidered textiles while still maintaining traditional artistic styles. Sulafa would not be possible without the help of The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which was established by the United Nations in 1949. One of the largest United Nations programs in existence, it started out as a temporary agency; nearly 70 years later, however, the Agency continues to provide essential services for the well-being, human development and protection of Palestinian refugees.
Using a variety of both traditional and modern materials and patterns, Sulafa’s artisans make each and every one of their items by hand, to be sold both regionally and internationally. Artists embroider designs using a mixture of colors and motifs, while finishing work is carried out by tailors using machine sewing and includes such activities as hemming and lining an embroidered fabric into scarves, dresses, and jackets—to name just a few of the elegant and often dramatically colored offerings. Aside from wearable items, the collective also creates bed covers, wall hangings, and a plethora of other distinctive embroidered goods.
Sulafa artisans use both traditional cross-stitch methods as well as a type of stitch traditional to the West Bank called Madani. As it has been in this region for centuries, sewing techniques are learned at home, usually passed from mother to daughter. Embroidery plays a central role in these women’s lives, providing not only income but also an opportunity to forge friendships and perpetuate their Palestinian identity.