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Turkish Lace, Fabrics and Fashion Design

written by: Donna Cosmato • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 2/9/2015

The centuries-old Turkish traditions of making the finest lace and embroidery as well as producing brilliant silks and brocades are very much alive today. Even modern Turrkish fashion designers like Zuhal Yorgancioglu, Birnur Garland and Hussein Chalayan are influenced .

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    Turkish Fashion Designers

    Today's Turkish fashion designers make great use of the traditions in creating Turkish women's fashions. Zuhal Yorgancioglu's evening Hussein Chalayan portrait dresses reflect the love for vivid colors and precious fabrics as do the creations of Birnur Garland, owner of the Australian label Kromosome.

    London-based, Cyprus-born Hussein Chalayan has won many fashion awards and put the image of Turkish fashion talent on the international map. Apart from these three, there are many more young designers starting to make their mark.

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    Oya and Nallihan

    Textured Colored Fabric Detail The art of decorative edging called "oya" originates from Anatolia and is thought to have spread via Greece and Italy to Europe as early as the 12th century. Bursa, an important trading town on the Silk Road, was the center, but the fine needlework is produced in many Turkish regions.

    Materials used are as varied as are the means that are employed to make the lace. They include: needle, crochet hook, a small shuttle made from bone (mostly found in villages), hairpin, beads and tassels. The word "oya" not only identifies the art work, but refers to a whole catalog of meanings and emotions expressed in the use of the lace, its motives and colors.

    Materials used are silk, wool, gold and silver threads, beads, pearls and tiny pieces of mother of pearl. The most common motif is a variety of flowers, but there are also geometric patterns. The finest silk flowers made with a needle are known as Nallihan from the province of Ankara.

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    Use and Symbolism

    Woman in Turkish Dress Young brides and virgins used to wear oya flowers such as roses, jasmin and violets; older women adorned themselves with a bent tulip. A girl in love conveyed her feelings by wearing oya of pink hyacinths, and one who expected her marriage to be an unhappy one would wear something called "pepper spice" oya.

    Even the relationship between a future mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law could be expressed by oya. Meadow and grass boded well, whereas dark, somber flowers showed that the relationship might be a cold one. The list is endless.

    Lace in the form of intricate flowers wrapped around the head is only one of many applications. Edgings adorn garments, scarfs, wraps and undergarments. Today, lace—often still handmade—is bordering curtains and drapes, towels and pillows.

    Window blinds have a lace finish with tassels and throws and pillows are often made of patchwork, which is embroidered with sequins and gold thread. Curiously, not only emotions but also public figures and events are expressed by oya, as in the case of the "Atatürk Flower".

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    Silks and Brocades

    Turkish girl wearing red dress with traditional Turrkish elements During the Ottoman Empire, the weaving of silk reached great heights. So important was the silk industry, centered around Bursa, that it was strictly regulated and state controlled. Seals of approval were attached and the silk weavers regularly inspected by Empire officials.

    What is known in the Western world as "brocade" is a Turkish invention and refers to heavy silk, interwoven with metal thread. The favorite color was a dark crimson and the Turkish style is unique and easily recognizable as it is very naturalistic, depicting flowers in delicate colors set against a contrasting background. Modern fabrics, whether used as curtains or in fashion, are often heavily embroidered or woven through with metal thread.