Cross-stitch embroidery is an ancient and universal art, found throughout Europe and the Middle East. Representations of women wearing embroidered tunics were found in excavations in Jericho, the oldest known continuously inhabited town in the world.
In historic Palestine, cross-stitch embroidery was considered a basic skill that all girls should have. Since formal education wasn't available to village girls until the 1940's, embroidery was one of the areas in which a young girl could excel. In the words of Im Ibrahim, « In the past, girls who didn't know how to embroider were considered like girls who don't know how to read today! ».
Girls were taught to embroider by their mothers, usually between the ages of 10 and 12. Najlah, now in her 80's, says: « It was my sister who taught me. She said, "You should be ashamed of yourself that you don't embroider". So I learned! ». The neatness and creativity of a girl's embroidery had a major effect on her social standing within the community.
Embroidering was a highly communal activity - one that allowed women to socialize as they worked. Aisha, 63, remembers: « After our mothers finished their work and ate, they would sit together as a group and embroider. ».