I often receive messages about how one should approach starting their own tatreez journey. In this post, I want to discuss the basic materials you will need in order to start!
Starting with the right materials can be empowering and give you the confidence you need to start a new project! With experience and practice, you’ll find what feels most natural and allows you to create the most even tension in your stitches. You might even find that you enjoy tatreez-ing on more uncommon surfaces that don’t include fabric. Many modern tatreez artists are also expanding the mediums we use to keep these traditions alive & it is a beautiful expansion of this art form.
Everyone should know, though, that there is no one way of beginning your tatreez journey. For many Palestinians across the diaspora and in exile globally, this rich art form has been torn away from us or simply removed from our lives and replaced with more essential daily actions as family preservation and basic needs become prioritized. This is a very true reality for many Palestinians, including my own sisters-in-law to whom I taught tatreez well into their adult lives. No matter how you’ve arrived at your beginning, welcome.
To get started, I would recommend size 14 Aida cloth. Size 11 is also an option - it will have larger holes for you to see as you stitch. The number/size refers to how many stitches are needed to create an inch of your embroidery. At any local craft store, you’ll likely see sizes ranging from 11-18, and even smaller sizes (larger numbers) of counted linen as well. For your first project, start with Aida cloth which is also referred to as cross stitch fabric.
Next, you’ll need your thread. In my own projects, I’ve only ever used and would only recommend DMC pearl cotton. There are different sizes, but size 8 is the most common and my preference. For different types of embroidery, I would recommend other sizes, but for traditional tatreez - start with size 8 pearl cotton.
You can also choose to use DMC embroidery floss which comes in 6 strands. You’ll need to cut your thread and separate the strands into pairs to use (some practitioners separate the strands into groups of 3, but my personal preference is to separate the strands into pairs). Sometimes, especially in the U.S., I find myself opting for floss simply because it is so much easier to come by and so readily available in all of the colors! Size 8 pearl cotton can be difficult to come by in local craft stores and may need to be ordered online to find a variety of colors.
Another important item you’ll need to obtain before starting is your needle. On its own, finding a needle you love can be a journey. There are so many types and I personally use different types depending on the fabric I’m using or the stitch I’m applying.
It is most common to start with a size 5 embroidery needle. This is easy to work with on many types of fabric, especially Aida cloth, but it is not my personal favorite - let me tell you why. I find it easier (and faster) to work with a slightly longer needle (size 2); I find that it allows me more control of my stitch.
Size 5 is, however, a great starting point. A size 2 needle is approximately 7.5 mm longer than a size 5 needle. You may or may not find a Size 2 Embroidery (Crewel) needle in your local craft store (mine carries them, but in other places I’ve lived, I haven’t always found them). Of course, in these times, you’ll probably be ordering online at least until the quarantine is over! So, with Aida cloth as your fabric, feel free to experiment with either a Size 5 or Size 2 needle - or whatever is handy for you!
Lastly, and maybe this goes without saying, you’ll need scissors. Fine point scissors are best for embroidery work, but if you’re just starting out, don’t feel pressure to get something fancy. Regular scissors will do you just fine until you’re ready to embrace a project. The benefit of fine-point scissors is that you can cut your thread very close to the back of your project when needed which can help you maintain a clean back to your work.
I welcome any other suggestions that anyone would like to share. No matter where you are in your journey, please feel free to share your advice so we can continue to learn from each other!