Traditional Palestinian Costumes with Dr Janet Starkey

An illustrated talk by Janet Starkey plus poems by Mahmoud Darwish and Nathalie Handal read by Paul Starkey: given at The Nomads Tent in Edinburgh on 4th May 2022.

Before 1948 every village and small town in Palestine had its own style of embroidery and cut of dress. Janet's talk includes images of stunning colourful costumes collected in the region between 1964 and 1977. The focus was not just on their amazing beauty. It was also a reflection about the central role that dress and poetry play in identity, in women's lives and as part of cultural memory - not just for Palestinians but for many other displaced people and Diasporas including Circassians, Armenians, Jews and Ukrainians. Magical!

All images of the Starkey textiles and Milne images are (c)Starkey. Thumbnail (c)Andrew Haughton. Copyright acknowledged for all other sources.


We are delighted to welcome back Dr Janet Starkey who will be giving an illustrated talk, 'Traditional Palestinian Costumes: The cultural richness of memory' at The Nomads Tent on Wednesday 4th May, 6pm to 7.15pm with proceeds going to Edinburgh Direct Aid.

Janet will introduce techniques and materials used in traditional Palestinian costumes, and some of the embroidery motifs found on festive dresses. Before 1948, every village and small town in the historic region of Palestine had its own particular style of embroidery and cut of dress: variously reflecting their culture and identities. The needlework is of the highest quality with glorious richness of pattern. In addition to a selection of historic photographs and others from Janet's family collection, we will view a range of stunning and colourful costumes some from the 1920s and 1930s. These wonderful garments were collected by Paul and Janet Starkey and others in Jordan, Damascus and northern Sinai. Anyone who sees these costumes cannot fail to be impressed by their powerful beauty.

Janet Starkey (MA Hons, M.Phil, PhD) is a former lecturer on the Anthropology of the Middle East at Durham University. She previously worked at the British Museum with Dr Shelagh Weir, one of the most knowledgeable experts on Palestinian costume. Janet’s family lived in Jordan from 1964 to 1971 where they made the collection that is the subject of this talk. Over the years she has carried out ethnographic fieldwork with Bedouin in Jordan,  the Beja of Sudan and Egypt, — and travelled in many parts of the region: from Morocco to Kyrgyzstan. She has published widely and given many lectures about the Middle East including several lectures here at The Nomads Tent.

Janet contributed a talk at our Travelling in the Footsteps of Marco Polo symposium held in The Nomads Tent in 2016. In association with The Nomads Tent's Ottoman Horizons: a festival of Ottoman culture she was a joint organiser of Travellers in Ottoman Lands: The Botanic Legacy held at the RBGE in 2017: a fascinating two-day seminar. This led to a splendidly illustrated book that was launched at The Nomads Tent in 2018.