From Frock to Furnishing

Upcycling Turkish village dresses

My base is in the hills of the Aegean on the west coast of Turkey; from here I pursue my passion for textiles - textiles that are woven, stitched, embellished or printed. These arrive in exotic abundance in the arms of local people, after a knock on the courtyard gate, or in sacks tipped out at my feet.

It was this way that I was introduced to village dresses using 'Powak', organic handspun cotton, naturally dyed and woven by hand on narrow looms some fifty years ago or more.

The simplicity of the stripes attracted me at once, and an old friend, Celal Vardarsuyu (Bereket Hali Istanbul) set me the challenge of turning these dresses into a modern commercial product.

The first step was to have the dresses washed in his carpet washing facility in the hills of the Atlas Mountains inland from Antalya on the south coast. High powered hoses removed all possible traces of the dirt of years, and the dresses were left to dry next to carpets of distinction on a bed of hot stones. Any quality control expert would be amazed by the fabric's stamina.

Unpicking needed young hands and good eyesight. It proceeded at a rapid pace as the seams were mainly hand stitched and often the original fabric width had been used in an uncut state.

Pieces were placed alongside or overlapping each other and stitched together using darning needles and doubled crochet cotton to form a seemingly haphazard mosaic of red and white. A fine unbleached 100 percent cotton was used as a backing fabric and the whole piece was tacked together, as needed, to stabilize the layers.

The result was a pleasing a bedcover with a unique slant and a timeless quality that gives a new energy to frocks from the fields.

Frances Ergin is a British woman living in Istanbul, where she runs a textile business that undertakes marketing for textile co-operatives and artists, and organises trips of Turkey for textile tourists. Contact email: franergen@hotmail.com;http://www.francesergen.com. The author also provides insights into specialist Turkish publications on the theme. 

This article first appeared in the Australian Forum of Textile Arts in February 2011. For more information about the publication, please visit: http://www.tafta.org.au.

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