With tulip leaves on our terrace well up, spring is on its way early here in unseasonably mild Istanbul. We are anticipating our May journey. Turkey has been in global news for some serious reasons already in this New Year, so it’s time for an update!
Closest to home, the disappearance and murder of Sarai Sierra has shocked us all. Travelers simply don’t go missing here often. The country’s reaction ranges from earnest discussion to rampant rumormongering, in this nation that loves dreaming up conspiracy. As a longtime solo female traveler to about 45 countries, 14 years living here, with 3 of those in the Old City center of Fatih Istanbul, Turkey remains by far one of the safest places I’ve experienced. The concern about this recent event only confirms it will become more secure.
Also in the news, the bombing of the US Embassy in Ankara by a leftist group with loose Russia/Syria ties protesting Turkey/US/NATO relations, as Patriot missiles are installed along the southern Turkish border. Again, Turks are analyzing the details, but past increased security has proven a deterrent to greater death and damage.
The tragedy in Syria continues, but relatives and friends along our route report no major change to their lives, other than an outpouring of charity and help for Syrian refugees in the border area well west of where we’ll travel. The ancient city of Hasankeyf has been saved for now with a dam halted by court order. But work seems to be proceeding anyway, so we’re glad to get there again this year.
What do we conclude from these events? What we know to be true: Turkey is not a scary place. It’s ever changing, creative, colorful country full of wonderful people who want to share their homes, their art, their culture with you. We invite your questions and suggestions about our journey. We look forward to showing you our world this May!
Autumn has always been my favorite season, for its palette of colors that so match my creative eye. Unlike the renewal of spring, that other season harbinging change, this time of year reminds us to prepare for the future, to harvest what we’ve grown, and plan for our lives to come.
Late summer storks over the Marmara
Shortening days of fluctuating temperatures, filtered sun, cool breezes, cold rain. Sometimes all within 24 hours. The migration of flocks against a darkening sky, cloud patterns billowing across the deep cerulean sea. Our terrace office/living space brings it all into panoramic view, here on the edge of continental Europe, gazing across to Asia. My workdays are just as much about watching nature, sea and sky as writing and designing.
A work in progress…
With winter looming, I’ll be alternating between knitting needles and keyboard, as I begin serious work on the first draft of a memoir. I look forward to spinning my truth as a tonic to keep warm and aware. Here’s a sample.
Meanwhile, our best work these days is collaborative. Like the jacket inspired by our visiting friend Benita, who leads university students from around the US each summer in a study abroad program. Mehmet and Theresa of Ikonium Studio took a previously indigo and natural plaid vest and recolored it into the brilliant reds and deep greys Benita wanted. I added knitted sleeves – here’s what Benita had to say:
“…they did the dyeing of the wool to exactly the colors I wanted….and the arms are hand-knit to match the body of the jacket. Such an amazing process!!!! Ikonium did the body and Bazaar Bayar matched the color and textures to make a flexible-knit long sleeves. The sleeves are so cool…I wear them long over my fingertips or rolled up. It’s just such an incredible thing to have this object made by artists who care about each step of crafting the materials. Mehmet is a UNESCO living treasure…for a reason! He told us about wool…it was like this love story…! So happy to know these artists!”
A few knitted chairs…
Next up in creative collaboration? Repurposed furniture…can’t wait to show more, but here’s a peek at the colors.
A gold washed Kayseri carpet
And a few choice rugs as well, of course.
Hammock with a view
All in preparation for 3-day mini-immersion weekends we’ll be hosting monthly in 2013, mixing fibers, local history and culture as inspiration, food, and time to connect and enjoy creating with new people. We hope our terrace (and this hammock!) will be a welcoming retreat for knitters, culture and fiber lovers.
Samatya sunrise – late summer
Details soon. Now, go find the ‘strange pulls’ you love!
Begin with a body of fiber art alchemy: naturally dyed wool and squares of bright silk in solid colors and ebru marbling. Then some cotton muslin worked in to keep the fibers stable. Shape and press and steam it – all by hand – until it conforms rather perfectly to the female form.
The felted body back
This light-as-air felted magic is created by the skilled hands of Ikonium Studio’s Mehmet Girgic, UNESCO human treasure and 5th generation felter, and his partner Theresa May O’Brien, classically trained painter and colorist extraordinaire.
Choosing yarns for the sleeves
Lovely and detailed as a double-breasted vest is, it’s not yet finished. That’s where I come in: completing the garment by adding knitted sleeves. Luckily, I have more than enough yarn options ready in the right colors.
Deciding a stitch
Coordinating colors is the first step. The next is finding a texture that compliments the felt. Trying to match elements is too much work; besides, it looks contrived. Better to find a gentle harmony like nature does, similar but different, diverse with repeating motifs.
Doing the work
In this piece, that motif is the square. So, tiny seed stitch bands at the wrist, and larger blocks of pattern on the arm. Stripes are the perfect companions to the color-blocked body. The narrow width of the arm creates the visual block effect.
Putting it together
The sleeves could have been knit on the garment, from the armholes down. But since it’s summer, it’s too hot to sit with all this on my lap! So high narrow sleeve caps are calculated to fit into the armholes. The nice thing about wool is that it’s flexible when easing it all together with needle and thread.
Collaborating colors in blocks of soft felt and textured knit
And why knit the same sleeve twice? Matching yarns and stripes on each side of the body would be too rigid. It’s enough work to keep the sleeves the same size and length.
Last step: to keep the sleeves firmly in place against the felted body, I add a decorative blanket stitch in slightly shaded wool. In traditionally tailored menswear garments, this stitch would have detailed the inner lining. Better here to flip it to the outside.
Tailored sleeves suit this formal fitted body. I love how the bright playful colors and the asymmetrical collar keep this from being just another workday jacket.
Ready to wear
The best projects are collaborations. One artist starts, then others add until the work is complete. Fiber arts make the process easier, with hybrid blends taking shape in felt, in knitting, in a decorative stitch. More to come!
I frequently refer to myself as a “hybrid”. As an American mashup of multiple European nationalities, my ancestry is commonplace, centuries old and frankly boring compared to the ethnic combinations of others I know.
A vintage embroidered + mirrored Indian bodice
Yet in almost 14 years being an expat/immigrant, hybrid does best explain my life. Not me personally, for how I’ve chosen to pick and choose from my two home cultures plus whatever resonates from the rest of the world.
Knits + kilims: ways to use wool
As a career clothing and interior designer, with a penchant of world and personal politics, mixing things up comes naturally. I gravitate toward cultural fusion in fashion, in home décor, in writing, in living. Here in Istanbul, a treasure trove of my favorite things textile, hybrid takes on new meaning.
Bling with a vintage feel
A bit of striped vintage kilim scrap, a cast-off embroidered Indian bodice, knitted pieces from wool yarns found in hans located down narrow alleys near the Grand Bazaar. Cheap burlap from the Eminonu stalls, shiny mid-century baubles from an estate sale in Samatya. Trash to some, essential elements to me.
Colors that compliment but don’t match
Add that I hate to repeat an exact thing more than once, fallout from my years of designing for mass-production. Multiple colors, textures and patterns are a must. If you look closely the back and front of this design, they DO have the same knit stitch. But of course, why do the same colors or even the same scale?
Texture + texture
It’s not that I can’t decide or simplify the details. I prefer a celebration of styles, to reuse and cherish handmade bits that other hands have made, creating something new in the process. Call it ethnic, boho or hippie if you will. Those words no longer have meaning to me, as we forge our own life paths into the 21st century, and create new aesthetics that reflect our personal style. And designing something to be made by hand will always be the compass point of my journey.
Sparkle + soft
This satchel comes as close to a visual expression of my personality as anything I’ve created for quite some time. This bag, hand-stitched together over several evenings, is nowhere near as complex as the lives Abit and I are weaving together. That’s the work of two dreamers creating a future. We have yet a lot of work to do.
Decorative + functional
Meanwhile, I have a useable big satchel for work and laptop that I’ll carry as soon as the weather cools in the fall. More such hybrid ideas to come….
Textile romantics cannot bear to throw anything away. Especially vintage fibers that have been handspun and dyed, then woven into a rug using the knowledge gained by tradition, communicating the patterns of a timeless heritage. The pride and talent of an anonymous Anatolian woman, someone we’ll never know, leaves a spirit within the carpet we still feel.
Fragments from several regions, recombined
Wandering the lanes that radiate out from Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, we’ve discovered rooms full of woven bits and fragments, or rugs complete but for missing corners or random holes. Rugs once lovingly used, but now faded, worn and stained; heirlooms of another time brought to Istanbul long ago from the village, no longer valued by the descendants of the weavers and likely traded for ready cash.
Once bright red and indigo blue
The carpet sellers of Istanbul – not the hustlers in for a quick buck from the endless stream of tourists – but those true lovers who cannot live without their daily dose of handwoven beauty, are a reinventive bunch. In the midst of a carpet-selling lull several years ago, one such enterprising carpet dealer, well known locally by the nickname of “crazy”, decided to take a pile of carpets like these and toss them into a dye bath, just to see what would happen.
Can’t get more passionate than this purple
After much trial and error, as the story goes, he hit upon a way to remove some dye from the original rugs, retain some original pattern but recolor them, giving tired old pieces an entirely new appearance. By doing so, he started a trend that revived the carpet trade throughout Turkey, and beyond to other countries that weave.
Legendary lions, now subtle reminders of the past
While in Selcuk, we fell under the spell of repurposing these faded beauties to give them new life. That spirit of renewal felt familiar as we moved to Istanbul 2 years ago. We never quite know what to expect when we dye rugs (or change homes), since those with similar origins may turn out looking quite different from one another after the rejuvenation process. Like trying on clothing to give the wearer a new style, each rug takes on a new persona in ways unique to its own history and character.
No shrinking violet here!
Those who have tried to overdye new rugs cannot get a similar richness in color and wear. We’d like to think that’s because these older rugs, with wools and dyes that have mellowed over the decades, still contain that spirit from their weaver, her past and the traditions of her people.
Once bright, then worn…now elegant
It takes time, experience and healthy doses of trial and error to reinvent, whether it’s a vintage rug, a meaningful business or our ever-evolving lives. But we do know that such transformation rarely lacks for color.
The 1st of March, Abit’s birthday. An exceptionally snowy winter in Istanbul, spent designing new rugs and home décor, planning 2012 workshops and our spring craft trip east. Living in a visual world of patterns and images instead of words, writing and blogging were set aside for a time, waiting until I refound my creative balance between left and right brains.
Life was humming along at a productive, relaxed pace.
The landlord of our small but well-located Kadirga apartment with a view called. He’s sold our home to a man who planned to convert it plus the unused bird-infested attic upstairs into tourist accommodation immediately; construction work would start the next day. We’d have a month to find a new place, though the new owner hoped we’d be gone well before then.
After 30 days of 8am to 11pm sawing, hammering and other ear-splitting noise of the crew overhead – Sundays included – we’d had no luck finding anything nearby not in a basement, or targeted for short-term stays at astronomical rates. The new owner cut our utilities several times, and refused to repair the broken elevator, forcing his own crew to lug materials up 8 flights of narrow spiral stairs.
No elevator and 8 floors up? Simple…we have a strong rope
That last Sunday, April Fool’s Day the 1st, dawned bright, though storm clouds loomed across the Sea of Marmara. My role in our move was packing and checking leads on ‘emlak’ (real estate) websites, while Abit walked the streets and talked to everyone. Word of mouth is the best way to find a place; estate agents can be helpful, though their fee adds another month of rent to moving costs. Listings were numerous but dreadful, each looking at best like the anonymous housing we’d lived in when I first moved to Selcuk, basic boxes with small crumbling balconies viewing the neighbor’s laundry.
“Let’s go to Samatya” Abit said over brunch.
Samatya? I’d only become aware of it when US VP Biden made a short visit to its market while in Istanbul in December. A fishing village on the Sea of Marmara dating back to pre-Byzantine times, the name comes from the Greek word for ‘sandy’. Its southeast-facing beaches formed a natural shelter just west of ancient Roman harbor recently discovered near Yenikapi. Samatya, home to a large, prosperous community of Greeks, then Armenians, was built on the site of a 4th C Byzantine monastery, and the 11th C Armenian Surp Kevork, known in Turkish as “Sulu Manastiri”, meaning ‘water monastery’.
Stairs below the “Water Monastery”
As we arrived that Sunday looking for a new home, the skies opened in a torrent of rain. No umbrella with us, we stopped under a shop awning and grinned at each other. The rain was a good omen, since such rain has graced other important days in our life together.
Taking shelter upstairs in a restaurant on the main square overlooking the sea, filling with families out for a Sunday afternoon meal, we chatted with the waiter from Diyarbakir and learned that though Samatya still had a small but thriving Armenian community, the majority of residents were now from southeastern Turkey. I drank coffee while Abit visited the local emlakcilar. It’s best not to bring the American wife along at first, and on this day, it proved wise.
After looking at a few apartments, Abit stopped to read the postings at a small estate office. One of the men sitting inside at a desk was drinking raki. “Hey, your business is so good you can afford to be drinking at work on a Sunday afternoon? I guess you won’t be interested in showing me what’s available.” The emlakci’s partner jumped up before the insulted drinker could reply. “Sure, we know everyone. We’ll find you a place.”
Our new home’s exterior offers no hint of what’s upstairs
Eliminating a few predictable, clean but boring boxes he was expected to want, in the hills rising above the main square, a frustrated Abit reiterated that he was in need of a home with a view. “Well, there is a place just across the high street here, behind all the restaurants on the square. But no one wants it because it’s an old building with no central heating. It does have a view though….”
A half hour later, Abit bounded up the stairs of the restaurant where I sat waiting. “Come see our new home”. I’m used to having a husband who finds things – houses, shops, rugs, new friends – but frankly, he boggled my mind this time with his luck, or sixth sense, or karma. Whatever it may be, our new home in a 60-year-old building (a sturdy infant compared to the age of the surrounding churches) does not yet have heat. But it certainly has a view.
Rainbow over Marmara
Tuesday, we signed the lease; Friday, we moved. By Saturday night, Abit had planted a garden. In the time since, we’ve created two floors of home, full of everything vintage we love, all gathered for next to nothing from within a block or two of our new door. We’ve traded the damp scent of burning wood from Kadirga’s 1505 hamam for the smell of grilling fish, baking bread and sea air. We’ve met distant relatives from Mardin – by chance, they own the small liquor store across the street. Also across that street is the Church of St Menas; how appropriate that he’s the patron saint of traveling merchants.
In front: St Menas, over Empress Helena’s 4th C martyrion. Behind: The bell tower of Surp Kevork to the right, the white minaret of Mimar Sinan’s 1533 Abdi Celebi Mosque next door just visible to the left.
Samatya’s shifting sand was waiting for us to find it, to broaden our horizons in a sea change; the same sea, only now much bigger. Our workshop plans were delayed, our trip to the southeast not happening until this fall because of the increasing chaos in Syria. But as we now shift into summer, the workshop has a large garden home with plenty of space, a 10-minute train ride along the sea from Sirkeci.
Kocamustafapasa Station, at the seaside. Princes Islands beyond
“Move and the way will open” is a Zen lesson we’ll remember. Storm clouds will gather, bringing uncertainty. The road is guaranteed to change beyond our control.
Bazaar Bayar Samatya. Bloom time…
But this spring we’ve again learned to pivot, then replant.
Writers’ lives, reading history, social commentary, knitting, handmade adornments, women who challenge convention: I love them all. The best work arrives out of the blue, aligning these favorite endeavors into one design project. Like this hand knit wrap I designed, currently published as a pattern in Interweave’s inaugural issue of Jane Austen Knits 2011.
About this time last year, my friend Figen, owner and designer of KB Knitting, and I were discussing adaptations of vintage clothing into contemporary knitwear. An editor at Interweave, a quality publisher of fiber art and craft magazines, posted a request for knitwear designers to submit hand knit items inspired by her favorite writer, Jane Austen.
No one really knows if Ms Austen was a knitter, but then in the days of Regency England (1795 – 1830) most females had probably been taught and were expected to knit, sew, embroider – some type of handwork to display their talent and wile away the hours. We were to imagine the characters of Jane’s novels and bring to life garments imagined from intricate tales of human interaction, family intrigue and romantic encounters in that rigid social structure.
I immediately thought of Turkish oya, the needle lace that women in Turkish villages created as a colorful, visual way to silently communicate with each other in a ‘language’ that only they understood. Like their Regency sisters, Anatolian women were expected to excel in weaving, crochet and needle lace in addition to their home and farm chores. I thought of the connections between the two cultures, at first glance very different, yet both with women who must learn to read social cues to survive in these insular worlds.
I chose Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey not just for the main character’s name Catherine, but because it’s a tale of missed cues, of non-verbal communication between Catherine, an elder daughter raised in a straightforward, huge rural family, and the confusing world of double-talking inhabitants in the much larger English town of Bath. She faces peer pressure fraught with body language and innuendo, and ends up expressing quite the wrong sentiments. If she’d been in a Turkish village, the oya she chose to wear could have signaled her mood, or whether she was even intent on marriage without ever opening her mouth.
Though I would have preferred to use KB Knitting’s richly colored cotton tweed yarns, this silk and wool lace wrap was inspired by the romantic appeal of Regency-era clothing: high-waisted, draped shapes that would not be out of place in Ottoman times. Both cultures used simple decorative inspiration from nature. Jane Austen’s characters used a torrent of verbal language in tangled stories of emotion and etiquette. Adding autumnal oya flowers to the body at the hood, itself a flirtatious way of covering the head, was my nod to the subtle language these needle lace floral trims conveyed about convoluted village life in my adopted Turkish homeland
It’s obvious that the designers represented in this issue, the first of many to come based on its sold-out status before it even reached newsstands, truly do love the work of Jane Austen. We’ve worked not just to present lovely garments, but to use fiber arts to bridge worlds, drawn from another era yet relevant to our own.
All garment photos Interweave Knits
Digital and print copies are available here; be sure to check out the Table of Contents page! And if you’d like to add oya, you may buy it here.
“They are young, with burning blood” - a line from Iffet
Iffet is the name of the main female character in a popular series on Turkish TV; her name translates to ‘chastity’. In modern day Istanbul, a working class guy torches his own taxi in manipulative atonement after Iffet rejects him for date-raping her. Drinking and economic troubles ensue for him, yet despite his baggage, she eventually forgives his behavior. No thought that his bad luck may be karma for his shady character. The latest episode cliff-hangs as her traditional widower father overhears the girl tell her younger sister she’s pregnant. She should feel “safe, protected and free from violence in her home and family setting”. “In reality, however, it is in these places that girls often experience violence and abuse”, according to a 2009 UNICEF study on violence against girls. Will Iffet live through the next installment?
On another channel, Firar, meaning desertion or escape, takes place in present day Mardin, in the Turkish Southeast. A longsuffering wealthy young widow is overcome when she smells the scent of her dead husband on the married woman servant whom he raped, then seduced. This transgression leads to his death at the hands of the servants’ enraged husband, aptly named Adil, or ‘fair’. The servant is kept locked in the cellar after the murder not by the men, but the women of the household, is beaten and cursed by them, with no empathy shown for her weakness against power. No thought that the dead man’s disgusting behavior would have consequences. Predictably, his brothers set out to avenge the death. At least the widow screams, “What did I ever do to you?” as she rips his shirts apart before turning the scissors on herself.
These are tales of intense violence against females of all ages, fired by a sense of male entitlement to whatever he wants. What a culture watches on television not only reflects but reinforces cultural and social mores. Programming sex and violence as means to capture viewers is a time-honored marketing tool in all cultures, though there is no honor to it.
Yet I’m wondering whether the message the writers of these series ultimately send will turn out to be more than a confirmation of such behavior. Are they only offering titillating escapes from the reality of daily violent attacks in the Southeast, or the pro-Kurdish BDP Party taking seats in Parliament after an extended boycott in time to influence a new constitution, or the Turkish leaders’ quest for national admiration as a role model for the rapidly evolving Middle East?
Perhaps the writers will surprise me and plot to teach the ultimate perils of violence against women. They have the opportunity to change minds and traditions by showing the high cost to society. Official records for how many people, predominately women, die yearly in honor killings vary; such information is suppressed or goes unreported. Nearly 10 years after a well publicized murder of a young Swedish woman of Kurdish origin, or another in Mersin this year, these dramas continue, one by one, drops in a water torture slow death of rights at the reactionary hands of revenge. There are strong role models for women here, those who struggle and prevail in their work for change. I know it will take much more work from all of us to influence evolution. But I have personally witnessed encouraging small signs, not quite a year after I first wrote about the horror of honor killings.
“We won’t be anyone’s honor” - mourning women at Hatice Firat’s funeral
As the new primetime TV season plays out, in real life, a girl and boy 16 and 18, from the coiled branches of the same extended family, fall in love. Even among traditional families with origins in the Turkish southeast, chastity does not always figure in: the girl becomes pregnant. The couple runs away from the small Aegean town in which they grew up, to the anonymity of big city Istanbul. Do they stay in an out-of-the-way hotel? No, since hotels outside the touristic center can be quite strict about unmarried couples sharing a room, and they are too ashamed to try anyway.
Shame is a strong motivator here, the other half of honor. The writer Elif Safak explains the difference between men and women, in an excerpt about violence in Turkey’s strict patriarchal society. The fact that she uses textiles as metaphors makes her definition all the more vivid to this craftivist:
Since my childhood I have heard more than once old women advising young women to be modest. Traditionally, females and males are thought to be cut of different cloth. Women are cut of the lightest cambric whereas men of thick, dark velvet. The colour black doesn’t show stains, unlike the colour white, which reveals even the tiniest speck of dirt. A woman who is believed to have lost her modesty is at times worth no more than a chipped coin. There are always two sides of the coin: dignity or disgrace, and little consolation for those who get the wrong side.
A potential ‘blood war’ ensues. The couples’ brothers and cousins are forced into leaving their work and families to search for them, pressured by family elders into divulging anything they learn. Cell phones burn as the extended group holds 21st C tribal council on what should be done. The couple are discovered at the suburban home of a sympathetic relative. One would think their parents would be relieved they turned up safe after their escape. But no – the father of the girl decides he must kill the father of the boy, “for not controlling his son”. It’s quite a twist to talk of killing a father for the sins of his son. The victim of an honor killing is more typically the girl, for anything talking to boys, or in this case, being underage, pregnant and running away. Life-changing actions by someone so young, but retribution by violence starts a downward death spiral that will leave families ripped apart.
While these threats are coming from the older generations, the younger members are more forgiving, thinking beyond the immediate anger and sense of betrayal. They learn the girl wants to marry the boy, continue her studies by attending university to become an accountant and to have their child; the boy agrees. They know it will be tough, but they want to determine their own fate. They ask for their families’ support. More honor in that resolution than killing anyone, the youth of the family concur. Though a by-standing, mid-30’s relative says, “It’s not possible to change how our people think”, his contemporaries and those younger do not agree with this bleak assessment. Two weeks now after the couples’ request, the families have gathered face to face in Istanbul, and no one has come to harm. People are talking. More importantly, they are listening to each other. There may be glimmers of hope.
Gandhi’s truth that “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind” comes to mind when I witness these events, whether fiction or reality. Balancing honor and equality against dominance and violence is like standing a coin on its side – eventually one side ends up. But maybe the lessons of these tales are emerging: That families can learn that violence does not bring honor, only more violence and senseless loss. That women must stand up for each other against any type of coercion. That a man’s sense of entitlement to take whatever he wants is mistaken. A woman has the right to choose her own fate, to determine the cut of her cloth.
You don’t have to be an expert to help educate about the importance of a girl’s wellbeing in any society. You just need passion, concern and a blog. The more we speak out, the more who will listen.
Turkish fiber arts were woven in the past with a purpose in mind: to carry belongings, to use as seating, to warm a floor. Always practical, yet beautiful and decorative too, through pattern, embroidery and other embellishment techniques.
But when it comes to sheer whimsy and exuberance, nothing comes close to tulus: Anatolian kilims that knot in long strands of mohair from Turkey’s angora goats. This luxurious fiber takes bright color with a silky luster.
The weavers create bold geometric designs with these shaggy yarns on typical striped kilim bases. Tulus were primarily used for sleeping, so most are twin bed size.
These are vintage, about 40 to 60 years old, but have a modern vibe that would make any space giddy with color. Just the thing as we head from summer heat into perhaps an early autumn here in Istanbul.
I just can’t stop posting these, so here are more. All for sale, so contact us, above!