How do you say…’our problems will go with us to the grave’?

When I returned to Australia after living in Turkey for five years I received many many beautiful hand crafted textiles.  A hand painted silk tablecloth from my yenge, a much used wooden tray stand from another yenge but my most precious would have to be the yazma scarf that my anne gave me.  A vibrant red cotton printed scarf with handmade oya edgings with stunning three dimensional flowers on it.  She even took the time to make the tiny pollen dots on the end of three central stalks in each flower.  Today, I am quite taken by all of the yazma scarves and gaining quite a collection; their feel, the way they come alive when you are wearing them but none could come close to the affection I have for my treasured one.  It must be pretty special to her too seeing as it came with strict instructions and a promise not to sell this one.

A close up of the detailed flower work

We have a great collection of new yazma scarves, all with hand embroidered lace work edgings in the shop and available online as well (click here) but I thought it would be nice to do a little piece on these truly expressive crafts of the Anatolian women.

The term “oya” is commonly applied to scarves, usually cotton but also silk or synthetic, decorated with colourful lacy edges. While there are plenty of machine-made edgings out there, nothing can compare to the talent, time and absolute treasures of the handmade edgings. Oya is the name of the lacy stuff itself which is also used for earrings, necklaces and towels just to name a few. The ladies who make the oya, like their sisters who make carpets and kilims, sometimes create their own designs but more frequently use traditional patterns passed down from mother to daughter.  History can trace backwards till 600 BC the art of oya.


Most of the designs are floral, and the variety of flowers is endless.  Like everything in Turkish hand crafts, there is a meaning behind every design. A notable inclusion is the “tombstone,” a local name for the design, given to one’s kaynana (mother-in-law), meaning that your mutual problems will go with you both to the grave (how delightful!). Most other designs represent much warmer thoughts such as appreciation of friendship. Yellow flowers signalled fatigue or unhappiness, red was for excitement or love, blue comfort and happiness, and green meant hopes and wishes. A blue headscarf with tiny blue flowers on them was to ward off the “evil eye” and bad health. Meadow flowers spoke of happiness while small red peppers showed anger or represented a “hot” marriage. Stuffed pink tubes announced a longed for pregnancy. Burdock motifs warned an interfering mother-in-law to back off.  The two most common types are iğne oyası, similar to lace tatting and made with a needle (iğne), and tığ oyası, made with a crochet hook (tığ).

The (usually) multi-coloured oyas are produced one colour at a time, sometimes directly on to the scarf and sometimes made separately and then attached later. Perhaps starting with the green leaves first, then lavender flowers, then purple stamens. Sequins, seeds and beads are sometimes used in the pattern producing as always, a unique twist to what other women created.

I often marvel at the patience of the Turkish women who create these crafts.  Although I do realise that more often than not these are activities that would be undertaken as a group, with cai and biskuvi and an abundance of talking and laughing.

Sadly this is another Turkish craft that will in the near future become less and less common.  I don’t recall too many of the younger generation enquiring a ‘how-to’ or even practising this art at all…

UPDATE: We now have a very small selection of handmade oya necklaces available for sale.  I am absolutely in love with them! They are delicate, feminine and each so beautifully unique.  Check out some of them here for sale on the shop website.

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