|Oya, private collection|
|Turkish stockings from near Bayşehir. Private collection.|
|Turkish knitter in Anamur. I took this by sticking my camera lens into my binoculars.|
|Yarn merchant in the Kürkçü Han in Istanbul; lighting cotton yarn to show that it burns (and is thus natural fiber).|
Through Ravelry, I became familiar with the work of Katya Güler, who lives in Izmir and designs beautiful slippers that incorporate traditional motifs into stylish new adaptations. Her Alabora slipper, for instance, features a topsy-turvy (i.e., reversible) motif on a delicate, foot-hugging slipper. In fact, the traditional design is probably a pair of mirrored boncuks.
|Entrance to the Kürkçü Han, Istanbul. A touristy water carrier obligingly passed the entrance as I was taking the picture.|
|Inside the Kürkçü Han, Istanbul. Video.|
A two-story market built around a large courtyard, it seems to overspill with skeins beyond number. If you’d like directions, the All Tangled-up blog will get you right there from the Grand Bazaar. It is an experience not to be missed! I took a short video from a second story balcony, but it’s very hard to capture the vibrant Kürkçü Han spirit.
In this very rich land of textiles, where knitting is so common, and a robust and complex knitting tradition underlies a thriving yarn culture, you’d expect to find plenty of literature devoted to the history of Turkish knitting. Instead, textile literature is curiously silent on the subject. I haven’t done much research on Turkish publications, but in English, there are really only three books devoted to Turkish knitting.
Kenan Özbel’s book, Türk köylü çorapları, was first published in 1976. Fortunately, it was translated into English and published as Knitted Stockings from Turkish Villages (Istanbul: Türkiye Iş Bankası Cultural Publications, 1981). Özbel apparently spent a lifetime scouring the countryside, collecting textiles of all kinds. He wrote many booklets about various aspects of his research and collection, including a small pamphlet on knitting in 1945, and another (translated into French, ca. 1967) on Turkish peasant socks and stockings. Since these are so rare, it’s been hard to lay hands on copies, but they are out there. Özbel records a number of patterns, naming each one, as well as many folk traditions related to stocking creation and use. He states, for instance, that traditional knitters used symbols to communicate their marital status, hopes for the future, invoke good luck talismans, and generally draw upon a large stock of pictograms to communicate through socks. In fact, Özbel begins his book with a quite striking assertion: “[Stocking] motifs and colours are like the silent language or unreadable inscriptions of a forgotten alphabet.” Although he doesn’t discuss how he did his research (Did he interview knitters? Did he interview weavers and find graphic similarities in knit stockings? Were these symbols widely used in certain regions and unknown in others?), he traveled widely and acquired wonderful examples from across the country for at least forty years. During that time (1930s through 1970s), there were still many knitters keeping traditions alive and actively passing on their knowledge.
Betsy Harrell’s Anatolian Knitting Designs: Sivas Stockings Collected in an Istanbul Shantytown (Istanbul: Redhouse Press, 1981), was written by an American woman who lived in Istanbul. She interviewed many women from Sivas (apparently a hotbed of knitting) and other places in Eastern Anatolia who had migrated to Istanbul with their local knitting traditions intact. She collected patterns, stories, and legends, and brought them together in a wonderful book published by the Redhouse Press, famous for its Turkish-English dictionaries, and the foremost publisher of English books in Turkey. She had read Özbel’s work, and tested out a few of the theories he put forward by interviewing modern, city knitters about the designs they named and demonstrated for her. She discovered that many of them had only vague notions about what the symbols meant. Still, they were able to help her record, chart, and identify dozens of designs, and to discuss customs in which stockings at that time still played a central role (as trousseau elements; as gifts; as preferred color schemes). She also posed the tricky, but fascinating question: do knit motifs emerge from carpet and kilim designs? The answer was yes, but only from the finer rugs.
The third and most recent book is byAnna Zilboorg. Fancy Feet: Traditional Knitting Patterns of Turkey. (Asheville, NC: Lark Books, 1994), and recently republished as Simply Socks. Zilboorg explores Traditional Turkish (“folk”) knitting in a short text, and offers a number of charts for designs that she found in specific regions in Turkey. She also explains the traditional construction method (including the toe-up construction, starting with the famous Turkish cast-on), so if you want to make Turkish socks, this is the best way to find out how! She includes 45 different basic patterns that represent a wide variety of styles, from pointy toe to pointy heel, and all the way up to a choice of decorative bind-offs.
I have a bit of a confession: even though I own this book and love it, I’ve always felt as if Turkish stockings were not something I should make. Maybe that’s because I’m not a sock knitter. I know, I know, I’m sort of defective in that way, and someday maybe I’ll see the light. Perhaps, too, I’ve had too much admiration for the real thing. But now I’m getting ready to forge ahead and see if I can tackle a pair.
|Turkish slippers, courtesy of randomthreads||More Turkish stockings, courtesy of randomthreads|
“a forgotten alphabet”
|Kurdish angora goat|
|Edging detail||Toe detail|
|Gaziantep stockings||Inside out|
|Sivas stockings in cotton & acrylic.|
|Sivas stockings in cotton & acrylic.|
Detail of turned-up hem to show
color stranding. Private collection.
|Gaziantep fabric merchant in Gaziantep|
The first Turkic stockings, according to Özbel, were felt (as demonstrated in the Pazyryk burials). As low-tech as knitting is, felt making from fleece is even lower tech, although it does take skill and a great deal of practice to make it properly. I think of Kazakhstan as a great modern center of felt making, but the craft is definitely still alive and well in Turkey. My favorite Turkish felt production is the shepherd’s kepenek, which is often translated as “cape.” In fact, it is a personal tent for shepherds to wear during long hours tending sheep and goats. There are some great examples here (the site is in Turkish, but the pictures speak for themselves) and here.
|Two kinds of Gaziantep fabric, in Gaziantep|
My project: how could I not work with T and tea? Turks drink liters of tea every day, and it is such an integral part of daily life there that no transaction of any importance can possibly take place without an offer of tea. Tea symbolizes the legendary Turkish hospitality. Take my trip to the Kürkçü Han: before we were three steps in the doorway, the yarn merchant offered us çay (pronounced “chai”). In Turkey, it is served in small glasses on ceramic or metal saucers, and several lumps of sugar. No milk. No lemon. The tea comes from samovars, not from ceramic teapots, so my project is a foreigner’s take from the outset.
|Tea in the Kürkçü Han, Istanbul|
|Download pattern for miniature Turkish stocking (pdf, 645k)|
|Handmade slippers from near Eskişehir, featuring a very typically Turkish carnation motif|
- Color Joy, Fanatical Details on Turkish Socks
- Donna Druchunas, Turkish Delight for Knitters
- FluffyKnitterDeb’s Turkish Cast On Tutorial
(this is a slightly more complicated, but probably more reliable version of the Turkish cast on that I use in the miniature stocking pattern)
|Boncuk seller in the Kapalı Carşı (Grand Bazaar), Istanbul|
- Republic of Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Entry on Knitwear, from Section on Costume, Traditional Arts & Folk Paintings
- Turkish cultural foundation: overview of Turkish stocking traditions (lots of pictures)
- Anatolian Artisans (Washington, DC)
- Sadberk Hanım Museum in Istanbul
- Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum in the Ibrahim Paşa Palace, Istanbul
- Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin
- Real Turkish yarn, 100% wool, for Britons
|Turkish stockings in America on Christmas morning.|
- Pricilla Gibson Roberts Ethnic Socks & Stockings: a Compendium of Eastern Design and Technique (XRX, 1995)
- Meg Swansen Turkish coat (Ravelry link
) Knitting Around the World (Threads Magazine, 1993)
- Kafe Fassett Turkish Carnation Cardigan
- Harika socks (Harika means fabulous) by Stephanie van der Linden, Twist Collective, although the patterns are identified as Moorish
- Donna Druchunas. Turkish Delight Hat Pattern
|Needle-woven (?) strap or belt. Private collection.|
Turkish Arts Bib
- Henry Glassie. Turkish Traditional Art Today. Bloomington: Indiana University, 1993.
- Harald Böhmer. Nomads in Anatolia. Ganderkesee: Remhöb, 2008.
|Thumb-sized, shelled pistachios at a market in Gaziantep. Wrapped in cotton Gaziantep fabric.|
- John Freely & Hilary Sumner-Boyd. Strolling Through Istanbul (Redhouse Press, 1972, but still in print from Taylor & Francis and others).
- Irfan Orga. Portrait of a Turkish Family (English ed. 1950, but still in print from Inman Press).
- Barbara Nadel mysteries set in contemporary Istanbul, especially Belshazzar’s Daughter (1999) and Harem (2003).
- Jason Goodwin mysteries featuring Yashim, a eunuch detective, in 1830s Constantinople. Loved Janissary Tree and Snake Stone, and looking forward to reading Bellini Card. Be prepared to gain weight: the food sequences are very succulent.