A chance encounter in a small Aegean town while traveling in Turkey refocused my direction in life, when I met my vintage textile expert husband Abit. I was a clothing and interior designer in my native California, with work stints in design centers around the world.
In 1999, Abit and I, each avid Turkish, Kurdish and Central Asian textile collectors before we met, started Bazaar Bayar in Selcuk, the town next to the ancient ruins of Ephesus. We surrounded ourselves with woven treasures from these cultures in a small shop in the exact location where we met. I have degrees in design, but Abit grew up watching the women in his native region of Mardin in Turkey’s southeast weave kilims and other functional yet beautiful items for their homes. Learning to weave was once a prerequisite before woman could marry. My mother-in-law’s generation was the last to weave for themselves.
We spent a decade in our Bazaar Bayar shop, collecting and selling vintage kilims and carpets, embroidered suzanis, and vintage Ottoman and Central Asian jewelry. We also sold the hand-knits I created, inspired by the local women who knit and crochet in profusion. From intricately patterned colorful socks to the exquisite flower and fruit ornaments called “oya” that adorn headscarves, I am captivated by the crafts average Turkish women still make.
The summer of 2010, we moved to Istanbul’s Old City, to launch a workshop to support local unsung artisans: women who still weave, knit, and crochet in the traditions of timeless Turkish handcraft. Istanbul is a magical, challenging city with a diverse population of women. Some of these are educated women, reviving crafts as a hobby or a career. There are other women with fewer opportunities who’d like to earn money within a safe community of women. Our workshop also gives traveling women a chance to meet Turkish women through classes we offer and craft tours we host. Hands engaged to learn new skills and teach traditional ones, spinning yarns, clacking needles and drinking tea together, we’ll share the common language of craft with stories from our lives and about our cultures.