Widad Kawar is an internationally renowned collector of Palestinian and Jordanian ethnic and cultural arts. She grew up in Tulkarem and studied in Ramallah at the American University of Beirut. Kawar is known as Umm l’ibas al-falastini—the mother of Palestinian dress.
She has amassed an extensive collection of dresses, costumes, textiles, and jewelry over the past 50 years, seeking to preserve a culture that has been largely dispersed by the conflicto.
She has made her collection available for public viewing and has mounted exhibits of Palestinian dress around the world.
Kawar remembers the way she started her collection of dresses. She said that many years ago someone gave her two traditional costumes as a present. She never imagine that the present would grow to be one of the largest collentions of costumes from Palestine and Jordan.
Kawar felt the influence of the the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 on the people. She remembers her town and the village women dresses up in their best costumes to go to the market in Bethlehem but she realized that all these had vanished because it has been occupied by the ilegal state of Israel. All these women and their families were settled in refugee camps and started a new life, a new camp culture.
This situation encouraged the collector to work hard and collect costumes and the information about these dresses.
In 1967, she had to work even more because all the villages in Palestine were occupied. To collect genuine pieces was a hard job but she did it.
She managed to collect costumes, accessories such as jewelry, and household items that women prepared for the weddings – these included cushions and home embroideries, weavings, pottery and straw work.
Her collection is more than that, through her work she git to know they way many of these women think, she hot to know their position in the family, they new roles, their attachment to their heritage and the big effort they are doing in order to keep their family together.
For Kawar, all these women are inspired her because they are sharing with the collector their memories, their sad and their cultural heritage.
She has written many books on Palestinian embroidery. Recently, she collaborated with Margaret Skinner on A Treasury of Stitches: Palestinian Embroidery Motifs, 1850–1950 (Rimal/Melisende). Widad is currently a member of the Board of Trustees of the American Center for Oriental Research.
After years of collection, she recently established Tiraz, a home for the largest collection of Arab dress, containing over 3,000 costumes and weavings from the 19th and 20th centuries. Her dream now is to develop the center and keep the traditions of embroidery alive.
Each piece belongs to a particular time, a particular tribe or village, with an individual story to tell.
Tiraz is a place to exhibit and combine these stories for the public in Jordan and the Middle East, as well as for cultural centres and institutions around the world. To be celebrated and understood, and collection must be seen and experienced.
Words alone cannot capture the spirit and immediacy of the embroidered patterns; the sensitivity, diversity and the richness of their forms.
Tiraz will curate, describe and explore these forms, expressed in the seams of each garment, in a way which historians and visitors from all over the world will come to appreciate, and remember.
Directorate of Heritage Award of the Government of Sharjah, 2014
- Prince Klaus International Award for culture and development, 2012
- Jordan Tourism Medal for her role in organizing the Seville World Expo, 1992
- King Hussein Medal, 1993
- Medal for Jarash Festival, 1986
List of Publications
The list below includes authored publications as well as contribution towards publications, especially exhibit catalogues.
- Threads of Identity: Preserving Palestinian Culture and Heritage – Amman, Jordan 
- Contribution to BERG Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion Volume Four on Central and South West Asia 
- Bethlehem: From Golden Threads to Cement Blocks – Amman, Jordan 
- Cultural Treasures of Jordan 
- Palestinian Embroidery, Traditional Fallahi Stitch. With Tania Nasir. National Ethnic Museum -Munich, Germany 
- Costumes Speak. With Sally de Vries. Jordan Magazine – Washington, United States
- National Costumes of Jordan. The Art of Jordan. Museum of Mersyside – Liverpool, England
- 2000 Years of color. Kawar Collection and Mosaics of Jordan. Moesgard Museum – Aarhus, Denmark 
- Memoire de Soie. Institute du Monde Arabe – Paris, France 
- Pracht Und Geheimnis. Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum – Munich, Germany 
- Costumes and Wedding Customs in Bayt Dajan. With Shelagh Weir. 
- Weaving in Jordan – Amman, Jordan 
- Costumes Dyed by the Sun – Tokyo, Japan