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I had been contemplating relocation to a country in the Mediterranean region but was most definitely not looking for a romantic relationship.
Kismet had other plans of course, and placed a carpet-selling, textile-hunting man in my path. Smitten, we moved in together, with surprisingly no objection from his relatively conservative Muslim family.
But until I learned Turkish and Kurdish, how could I connect with my many new female, headscarf-wearing relatives, none of whom spoke English?
They were all wonderful home keepers and cooks, baking their own bread, making every meal from scratch using nothing store-bought, skills I appreciated but had no time with a new business: Needles and yarn were things I always had time for, a favorite talent and compulsion for keeping my hands and mind busy while I grappled with fitting with family who accepted me, but had grown up in such a different culture than mine.
Yet one fact struck me: Knitting was a lifeline I grabbed with gusto. In my 20s, I picked up the needles again, this time in Denmark on a trip with my knitwear design mentor.
His non-English-speaking mom showed me how to take the luscious handspun wool available everywhere and knit Continental style, which suited my ambidextrous tendencies perfectly.
How I put together colors and patterns by making a hat for a nephew, how I played with scale and texture in a dress for a niece.
In turn, they showed me how they knit intricate multi-needle jacquard slippers that kept our feet so warm. We dreamed up hats, scarves and socks to sell in our vintage textile shop.
They excelled in a variety of traditional Turkish crafts. They embroidered towels, crocheted bath scrubbers and oya, the decorative floral trim that adorned their headscarves, painted ceramics and wet-felted small rugs.
They no longer had time for weaving large projects like they did when my mother-in-law was a girl, when women gathered after the farming, cooking and other house chores were complete, to show their daughters how to make the items they would need for their dowry.
As Turkey has modernized, the ease of buying mass-produced goods has increased. It was far more affordable and far less time consuming to buy from the big box stores cropping up all over Izmir province.
These weavers were paid a daily rate and insurance benefits, but the weaving they did was mainly for show.
But clearly the women of our town retained the timeless urge to create beautiful things by hand, if on a smaller scale than their mothers and grandmothers.
Tourism had turned weaving into a commodity that had to compete with global pricing, so the most of the goods actually sold were predominately made in cheaper labor countries farther to the east.
As tour group visits became restricted by town halls competing for gate fees, small businesses like ours struggled, a main reason we decided to move to Sultanahmet in Though Istanbul was a huge place, we both felt firmly at home in the maze of the bazaar district.
Where streets had traditionally been arranged by product sold—one lane for scarves, another for slippers—shops now displayed the same Chinese made products.
When admiring a sparkling hand woven silk, a shop owner would woo me with tales of weavers in small Anatolian villages, and feign indignation when I told him I knew the saris had been woven in India.
The number of textile shops and carpet wholesalers I trust to have Turkish goods, and those with authentic vintage and antique weavings and embroideries, has dwindled considerably.
In this world-class city, I missed the exchange I had with the women of our former small town, so I joined a venture to showcase Turkish products , and started new dialogues.
As I helped visitors navigate the narrow lanes of the bazaars, I was often the only native English speaker they met during their trip to Turkey.
In , as the flow of tourists began to slow as a result of protests and damaging media coverage, I started a Facebook group Handmade Istanbul , to connect with other craftivists of Istanbul, whether native born or foreigners like me.
I wanted to offer these artisans the opportunity to earn through their crafting skills. In , we eternal optimists recover from the rollercoaster ride of the past several years and patiently wait for tourists to return to Sultanahmet.
We may not speak the same languages, but we do share a common language of craft. Of equal importance is documenting the environment in which we share our stories over busy hands and steaming cups of tea, creating a place for bridging cultures, discovering the universal characteristics that compel us to create.
Blending and clashing like fields of tulips just burst from the ground, design is often the challenging act of reflecting Mother Nature in spinning yarns and combining colors.
Lively color we love to live with, for any room of a home. The season has changed here in Istanbul, overnight it seems, with dramatic thunderstorms and much needed monsoon rains.
Suddenly, time to put away the sandals and summer dresses and bring on the boots and leggings. And a soft warm throw to ward against the chill evening breeze….
Colors and textures galore! Click on each pic below for more info…. A craft workshop in which to gather these pieces together, Bazaar Bayar Samatya.
Time for our winter hibernation to come to an end. There is just too much craft inspiration swirling around us, despite grey days and endless revelations worthy of the most outrageous soap opera in local and national political news.
Ready to leave the crazy news aside and be inspired as well? This recent Time Out Istanbul article compiles a host of wonderful places to be active in Istanbul in , including our Bazaar Bayar.
A place to share your work and get it seen in a closed group of like-minded local folk. We do limit membership to keep out the mass-produced riff raff.
We are so inspired to be living with these handwoven treasures for a time, and will be slowly sharing each of them here and in our Etsy shop.
I met fellow color and fiber junkie Inese Liepina through a mutual designer friend in San Francisco, who introduced us via email on my birthday in Unhappy about paying high prices for Turkish kid mohair sold to Italian mills and marked up significantly for sale in the EU, she decided to come directly to the source, here in Istanbul.
It took just one visit to our local yarn han to see that we were kindred spirits. Anyone not as enraptured with fiber and color might be puzzled at the sight of us digging through dusty bins of yarn on spools, gathering the best hues and softest feels into a huge pile, wheeling and dealing with the merchants for tens of kilos at a time.
Not just one red, one yellow, one blue, one green…but every incremental shade, compiling a tactile rainbow in full blown color.
While many knitwear designers might be able to put together similar color palettes, what Inese does with these mohair, cotton, silk and linen yarns makes her absolutely unique.
She blends the yarns together as she knits, 6 to maybe 20 at a time, starting in one part of the color spectrum, morphing and shifting the colors as the spirit moves her.
At about grams of softness, these are heaven to snuggle into as winter approaches. She also brought me two windings, enough to knit another wrap, and asked me to write a pattern for handknitting.
As she explains at her Etsy shop: Not only did I hate to put my needles down, I wanted to play with texture and pattern.
While Inese knits her wraps on a hand loom in stockinette or garter stitches, I added shadows and diamonds, ridges and eyelets to suit my decorative eye.
The pic above reminds me of the tiles in the Topkapi Palace. Visible softness sketched here as colors progress from a sandy beach to lapping waves, a fringe of trees against a cloudless sky at sunset.
As the friend who introduced us wrote: That power is in full color, the right hues mingling cultures and influences. Inese photographs and models most of her work, this summer doing a charming photo shoot with a friend, her mother and her daughters.
Great design spans generations. All of us need beauty, warmth, comfort and family. Read the stories she knits up about each piece in her shop ….
But we drove quickly through, wanting to see the changes in the old city. Some of the old houses seemed abandoned, while others were occupied.
Several of the grander homes were being restored into hotels. We trespassed through one unlocked large house that seemed an addition to an adjacent hotel; perhaps it will be a private home instead.
Signs of former wealth with large rooms, high vaulted ceilings and stone carvings. Modern plumbing was being installed, with walls and floors awaiting restoration.
Back outside, a family walking by told Abit they were Syriacs who had been living in Jordan but were thinking about moving to Midyat, where their families had originated.
I had to smile at the small worldness of his shirt, with my birthplace of Santa Barbara in far off California printed on the back.
It was again open to visitors, that day attracting groups of local Suriani youth. A recent BBC article explained it was not the work of the Turkish government, with Turkish border lands currently inundated with refugees from the Syrian civil war:.
Like us, he hopes many Syriac Christians from Syria will come with their families and settle here. Thank God for them. Who could have imagined that in a remote corner of eastern Turkey, the war in Syria would be reuniting an ancient community?
Only Father Joaqim, perhaps. There are many age-old ethnic and religious struggles still to be resolved in this region.
Go fly a kite: Traveling in Southeastern Turkey may not be easy. Overcoming culture shock, covering long distances, walking in hot weather with little shade on uneven pavements, adjusting to different microbes in the food, just to name a few challenges.
Even talking about going to that part of Turkey before our trip brought out all the usual warnings and concerns, about PKK terrorism and the ongoing civil war in Syria, though we were headed well east of the embattled border areas.
At first glance, camels laden with opulent goods for the bazaar, or men with long robes and turbans would not seem out of place. However, we quickly discovered the long main street was lined with Syriac wine shops and chic boutique hotels in those stone buildings, some renovated, others still falling to ruin, but the busy mood foretold that would not be for long.
Those surprising wine shops reminded me how the residents of Aegean Sirince helped their village prosper quickly by attracting foreign tourists.
This upper Mesopotamian city has been settled by numerous civilizations since about BCE, but Mardin of today seems nearly cosmopolitan, unlike the conservative vibe of Urfa.
The monastery dates from the 5 th century, built on the site of a temple to the sun. Zoroastrians before the Romans perhaps? The fact that the monastery not only has its own website — Turkish only for now — AND a 1 rating on Trip Advisor indicates growing tourism to the area, but the many visitors that day were either Suriani or Turkish.
Returning to our cozy restored Armenian guesthouse, after no Internet access the prior 48 village hours, getting caught up on news from our Istanbul home was a shock.
Facebook and Twitter were buzzing with the Gezi Park protests, turned violent enough that friends were admonishing me to stop posting pics from our trip.
Taksim Square has commonly been the site of demonstrations, typically labor union or student gatherings. Something bigger was erupting this time, but it was far too soon — then, and even today — to tell if the outcome will be an ominous regression or a permanent awakening.
Wanting to satisfy my political curiosity, I had to postpone learning more until we returned home. Hundreds of happy well-dressed people, families and couples, out for a celebration.
Hours of dancing, drinking and eating traditional roasted goat, pilaf and cig kofte, food prepared as a festive show of skill by theatrical chefs.
He drove us back to the guesthouse in his late model Mercedes along the quiet after-midnight streets. After Job and Viransehir, our Turkish Tulip Trip meandered even more decidedly off the beaten path for one more day.
We arrived in Derik, a short jaunt north off the international highway leading along the Syrian border from Urfa to Mardin. His father hails from the nearby village of Ambarli; more about it later.
While I can see the economic progress the town has made since my first visit in , this day opened my eyes to the history of the place.
We chatted for some time with one man, a lover of literature, whose English was perfected by years spent in the US and Europe. We were gifted with several different versions, all for this year, depicting local infrastructure improvements and industry, cement factories being most obvious on the printed page as well as along the highway as we came into town.
While the butchers prepared a special lunch, we headed up for a stroll in the hilly streets behind. Half-paved lanes under restoration, half-bright stone houses, old and new, hopeful and sad, more trash than I remembered seeing before.
Someone had painted murals of local life on central blank walls, more heartwarming than artistic. Election handbills papered the walls here and there, always with images of the same woman in Kurdish traditional costume or more modern business attire.
The man who spoke English in our shop? At least the family that held the keys to the last Armenian Church in Derik was home, a few doors down.
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