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Flowers of Silk and Gold: Four Centuries of Ottoman Embroidery
February 18 - July 30, 2000
Click on the banner below to explore the on-line component of Flowers of Silk and Gold: Four Centuries of Ottoman Embroidery, an exhibition presented at The TM in the year 2000.

he exhibition Flowers of Silk and Gold: Four Centuries of Ottoman Embroidery was presented at The Textile Museum from February 18 - July 30, 2000, and featured over 50 embroidered textiles from the Museum's collections. The founder of the Museum, George Hewitt Myers, collected many of the textiles that were shown. Presented as embodiments of Ottoman aesthetic, these textiles are a point of departure for an exploration of the rich Ottoman culture that produced them.

Цветы из шелка и золота

4 века оттоманской вышивки

he interior decoration of the Ottoman house was simple. The main rooms of the haremlik (women's quarters) (as seen in this illustration) were surrounded on three sides by divans (couches) raised about a foot from the ground. Cushions rested against the wall or were scattered at intervals along the divans. Gaily embroidered with gold and colored silk threads depicting flowers these textiles created a garden inside the house. The floor was covered with mats or carpets. Whoever entered the family rooms was required to remove his or her shoes and put on slippers.

To learn about Makers, Methods or Functions of Ottoman embroidered textiles roll your mouse over the image above.

18th century engraving from Ignatius Mouradgea d'Ohsson's book Tableau general de l'Empire othoman.

  • he Ottoman Empire spanned seven centuries and preceded modern Turkey. At its height the Empire extended over three continents. Ottoman art, including embroidered textiles, reflects both the abundance and wealth of the Empire. Embroidery was practiced by much of the population. Textiles were an integral part of daily life. Produced for both household functions and as garments these textiles took on luxurious appeal through the unique designs created with shimmering silk and glistening metallic embroidery.

    This website allows The Textile Museum's exhibition Flowers of Silk and Gold: Four Centuries of Ottoman Embroidery, which was at the Museum from February 18 to July 30, 2000, to continue to delight and enrich "virtual" visitors.

 

Cover

Cover
Turkey
Ottoman Empire
17th Century
The Textile Museum 1.42
Acquired by George Hewitt Myers in 1927

The designs on this cover closely resembles designs found on ceramic wall tiles, suggesting that this cover may have been used as a wall hanging. The fine embroidery and beautiful composition on this cover show the skilled workmanship of Ottoman embroiderers.


 

Towel fragment
Turkey
Ottoman Empire
Late 18th or early 19th century
The Textile Museum 1999.18.4
Gift of David Dew Bruner

The uncut warp loops on Turkish bath towels (havlu) created a kind of pile, which absorbed water quickly. Pile is seen here as bands above the embroidered design. Textiles with this weave structure later became known as terry cloth. This absorbent fabric delighted many 17th century European travelers to the Ottoman Empire. In 1614 Pietro Della Valle wrote:

"....a certain kind of cloth produced here...which, as woven, has a pile on one side, namely the part of the lining; with the long, thick nap on the fabric just like our velvets...these garments dry one at once quickly and well all over. This is truly marvelous after bathing, either swimming or in the hot bath...."


Tray cover
Tray cover
Turkey
Ottoman Empire
19th century
The Textile Museum 1965.14.1
Gift of Mrs. Fred S. Gichner

Visitors were welcomed in Ottoman houses with sweets and coffee served on trays covered with richly embroidered textiles.

This cover with its swirling floral design illustrates Turkish (Ottoman) Rococo. Turkish Rococo style was a product of skilled Ottoman artists who melded the European Rococo with traditional Ottoman forms and shapes.


Uckur (sash)

Uckur (sash)
Turkey
Ottoman Empire
18th century
The Textile Museum 1996.27.1
Gift of David Dew Bruner

The uckur was a long narrow sash used by both men and women. It was used to keep baggy pants tight around the waist. Both ends of the uckur were embroidered with stitches that created a reversible effect so that when tied, the decorated ends dangled down in the front as adornment.

The beginning of the 18th century marked the widespread use of metallic threads to enhance designs in embroidered textiles as seen on this uckur. The earliest surviving examples of Ottoman textiles with metallic thread embroidery date to the 16th century.

 

Yaglik (napkin)

Yaglik (napkin)
Turkey
Ottoman Empire
19th century
The Textile Museum 1990.4.33
Gift of Leila F. Wilson

In the 19th century, landscape designs on Ottoman embroidered textiles were common and depicted garden imagery and architectural features. With simple scenes, embroiderers began to experiment with perspective, using color to show depth. Sometimes up to 15 colors would be used in a single textile to suggest three-dimensionality.


Slippers

Slippers
Turkey
Ottoman Empire
19th century
The Textile Museum 1999.18.10A and B
Gift of David Dew Bruner

Slippers embroidered with metallic threads like the ones above may have belonged to a woman of status. Rarely used because they were so finely made, she might have worn these slippers when welcoming honored guests or during special occasions.

Floor spread
Floor spread
Turkey
Ottoman Empire
Late 17th or early 18th century
The Textile Museum 1.4
Acquired by George Hewitt Myers in 1915

An Ottoman house was generally empty of standing furniture. For dining a round cover like this one was spread on the floor.

The ground fabric of Ottoman embroideries is traditionally left undyed. This floor spread is rare because of the dyed ground fabric.


Bohca (wrapping cloth)

Bohca (wrapping cloth)
Turkey
Ottoman Empire
18th century
The Textile Museum 1.7
Acquired by George Hewitt Myers in 1922

A bohca is a square cloth that comes in many sizes. It is used to wrap things to be carried or stored. This bohca is decorated with simple floral sprig motifs placed in straight alignment. The ground fabric of Ottoman embroideries is traditionally left undyed. This bohca is rare because of the dyed ground fabric.

 


Bindalli (dress)

Bindalli (dress)
Turkey
Ottoman Empire
Late 19th or early 20th century
The Textile Museum 1978.22
Gift of Yavuz Sumer

The bindalli is a garment made for special occasions such as weddings. Bindallis were worn by the bride, and her female family and friends. Marked by elaborate floral designs bindallis were decorated with dival embroidery, a technique in which metallic threads are applied to the ground fabric and stitched down rather than sewn into the fabric.

Bindallis were introduced into Ottoman woman's fashion in the 19th century probably influenced by European dresses and skirts. Most bindallis were long dresses, sometimes with matching fitted jackets and slippers. Their tailoring varied significantly through the 19th and early 20th centuries reflecting changes in fashion.


Apron and towel from a barber's set

Apron and towel from a barber's set
Turkey
Ottoman Empire
19th century
The Textile Museum 1985.48.1A and B
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William O. Baxter

This apron and towel from a barber's set were created for special use to prepare a groom for his wedding.

On this example the technique used to create the floral imagery was called kasnak isi (tambour work) taking its name from the round frame used.

Flowers were the most prominent element in compositions of Ottoman embroidered textiles as well as in other Ottoman decorative arts. Under the influence of European Rococo floral sprigs of the 18th century gradually became lavish floral bouquets or garlands in the 19th century like those seen on this barber's set.


 

Flowers of Silk and Gold - Four Centuries of Ottoman Embroidery

The Textile Museum


February 18 - July 30, 2000

Detail - Cover Fragment, Turkey, Istanbul, Early 18th Century
acquired by George Hewitt Myers
Courtesy of The Textile Museum


Our Ottoman theme takes center stage as we highlight the current exhibition at The Textile Museum in Washington, DC, featuring over fifty embroidered textiles spanning the late 16th to early 20th centuries. As the Ottoman Empire flourished so too did its decorative arts. The textiles produced during the Ottoman reign provide a window onto the opulent culture which produced them. By exploring Ottoman cultural traditions we can better understand how social changes, environment and economy influenced textile production and design style. Floral imagery is ubiquitous in the embroidery of the Ottomans and pays homage to their love of flowers. On view is a veritable garden of stitched tulips, carnations, hyacinths, pomegranates and arched floral branches which replicate the splendor of Ottoman gardens. Like a long buried treasure now brought to light, many of these embroideries have never before been displayed or published.


Uckur (Sash) - Turkey
Late 18th or Early 19th Cent.
Courtesy of The Textile Museum
Gift of Mrs. Hoffman Philip


Textiles of all kinds played a pivotal role, influencing many aspects of Ottoman ceremonial and day-to-day life. At the top of the hierarchy were the needlework designs of the Nakkashane, the royal design atelier. Draftsmen copied these patterns for distribution to a populace anxious to emulate palace styles. Eventually they found their way to the far reaches of the vast Ottoman Empire, where the designs were employed not only by textile artists but also by potters, painters and others. As trade routes were firmly established with Western Europe in the early 18th century, a blending of the exotic Ottoman designs with the exuberant style of European Rococo took place culminating in the unique aesthetic known as Turkish Rococo.

Cover Fragment, Turkey 18th Century
Courtesy of The Textile Museum
Acquired by George Hewitt Myers, 1934


The Nakkashane attracted the brightest lights in the design world of the times, bringing a vast pool of talent together at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. Here influences from the numerous cultures which the Ottoman Empire encompassed were blended resulting in a distinctive style. Decorative textiles defined an individual's status both at court and in society at large. They were made into garments, wrappings, ornaments, covers, household furnishings, wall hangings, room dividers and daily linens. Some were further enhanced with gilded threads, sequins, gems and semi-precious stones. More extravagantly embellished textiles were inextricably linked with ceremonial life and family celebrations, such as weddings, births and circumcisions. Apparel, accessories and footwear for these events projected an aura of luxury, created as they were with luscious silks and sparkling metallic threads.


Tray Cover - Turkey, 19th Century
Courtesy of The Textile Museum
Gift of Mrs. Fred S. Gichner


The Imperial city of Istanbul was the seat of power of the vast Ottoman Empire and also the center for trade. The bazaars within this culturally diverse city were renowned for textiles, embroidered by both men and women. The men labored primarily in urban workshops producing large works from heavy materials and integrating them with the more costly materials of pearls, gold, precious and semi-precious stones. Since social custom restricted women to their homes, they occupied themselves with needlework in the haremliks (women's quarters). Embroidery was considered a suitable pastime for women and training in the needlearts formed an integral part of a young girl's upbringing. Women were equally adept in stitchwork as their male counterparts, were allowed to earn an income from their labors and to furnish their own homes. Handmade textiles were furthermore an indication of the wealth and status of a woman's family and reflected her skill as a needleworker.

The interior of a typical Ottoman home consisted of both haremlik/harem (women's quarters) and selamnik (men's quarters). The main rooms of the haremlik were surrounded on three sides by divans scattered with cushions. Pillows and other textiles were colorfully embroidered with gold and silk threads depicting floral motifs emulating a garden indoors. Floors covered with mats and carpets were also littered with cushions to provide seating. The largest embroidered textiles were covers and wall hangings. Bedding consisted of mattresses, covers and pillows which were placed on the divans and floor at night. Upon awakening, these were rolled up and put away in storage spaces covered by embroidered hangings.


Floor Spread - Turkey, Late 17th or 18th Century
acquired by George Hewitt Myers
Courtesy of The Textile Museum


Company was always welcome in the Ottoman home as it was thought that each guest was a "guest from God," and was treated accordingly. Visitors also provided the women with a festive respite from their seclusion and daily chores. The guest was shown into the best room of the haremlik. A round cover was spread on the floor which sometimes functioned as a table. At other times a cylindrical stand was placed on top of the spread which was then covered with a matching cloth and a lavish food tray placed on top. The coffee service is a custom which originated during the Ottoman Empire and persists in Turkey to this day. The prevailing belief was that if a guest was served a cup of coffee, he would pray for his host for 40 years. The coffee ceremony was highly ritualized and was conducted by at least 2 or 3 young girls or boys. Guests were presented with embroidered yagliks (napkins) or towels for wiping their hands while partaking of the refreshments.

 

 

Yaglik (Napkin), Turkey, 19th Century
Courtesy of The Textile Museum
Gift of Leila F. Wilson


The bohca, a square cloth made in different sizes, was used to wrap things to be either carried or stored. As embroidered textiles were symbols of status and bohcas were often used in public, great care was taken to make them beautiful. Women employed them to carry towels to the hamam (bathhouse) or to protect the bride's trousseau in transferring it to her new home. Going to the hamam was a favorite pastime for the otherwise secluded Ottoman women and constituted a festive and ceremonial outing. It offered a place where women and girls could show off their embroideries, their bath nalins (raised wooden clogs) and jewelry. It also provided the opportunity for mothers to select future brides for their sons. The quality of a prospective bride's needlework, which reflected both her family's wealth and her own skill, would certainly be factored in by a matchmaker.


Bohca (Wrapping Cloth) Turkey, 18th Century
Courtesy of The Textile Museum
acquired by George Hewitt Myers, 1922


The most important occasion in an Ottoman woman's life was her wedding, and preparations were begun early in a girl's life. From the time of a girl's birth, the older women would begin working on her ceyiz (trousseau) and the child would join in as soon as she was old enough to hold a needle. Her ceyiz was made up of yagliks, bath towels, covers, bohcas, apparel, accessories and all sorts of other items for her future home. For days before her marriage, relatives and friends would decorate her new home with these articles. Brought wrapped in elaborate bohcas, they would be spread out in order to view their overall artistic impact. Yagliks, towels, dresses, scarves and sashes would be hung on the walls. After the wedding ceremony the bride would go to her new home dressed a magnificent bindalli (dress), veil and slippers. Surrounded by her ceyiz, she was presented to her guests who would scrutinize her handwork and evaluate her stitching skills. Concurrently, festivities involving the groom were taking place in the selamliks which included the ritual of cutting the groom's hair. Seated, he would don a ceremonial apron and towel (barber's set) used for the occasion. Under the watchful gaze of the bridegroom's relatives and friends, the barber would do his work while musicians played and sang. One such set on display is exquisitely embroidered with intertwined trees. The trees may symbolize the ritual joining of the married pair, coupled with the tree of life representing fertility and fruitfulness.

Bindalli (Dress) - Turkey, Istanbul, Late 19th or Early 20th Century
Courtesy of The Textile Museum
Gift of Mr. Yavuz Sumer


The basic tools used for embroidery were the gergef, a rectangular embroidery frame standing on 4 short legs and needles made from metal, bone or tusk. Sometimes the gergef itself was exquisitely carved and inlaid with mother-of-pearl. A secondary frame also used for embroidery was a round hoop called a kasnak. Most embroidered textiles were executed on a very loosely woven plain weave ground fabric most often made of cotton or flax. More elaborate work was done on silk satin weaves or cotton velvets. The stitches employed were of two types - reversible and non-reversible. As the name implies, reversible stitches appeared almost identical on both sides of the fabric. Ottoman embroidery techniques were such that they prevented irregularities and resulted in very uniform stitching. The royal embroiderers were exceptional in their ability to create extremely diverse effects by manipulating stitches for effect, as well as being masters at incorporating metallic threads for further enhancement. Throughout the late 18th and early 19th century, the use of metallic threads was so prevalent that certain textiles were embellished almost exclusively with them. Metal wire spirals (tirtil), sequins and pearls were often added to highlight the designs. Prior to embroidering, the artist would transfer the design by drawing it directly on the fabric with a brush or inking pen, tracing it with charcoal or by using templates or print blocks. Ottoman embroidery from the 17th to 18th century is characterized by compositions with very precisely detailed motifs in clear forms. These had a defined orientation and were executed in a small number of bold colors (red, blue, green, yellow, white and black). Designs made up one or two motifs were placed on a diagonal or straight alignment and were sometimes combined with a lattice pattern to form large, free-flowing patterns. During the 19th century designs began to lean toward more intricate and realistic floral motifs. Ottoman decorative arts became even more lavish and detailed with the increased influx of European influences brought about by trade with the West.

Cover, Turkey - 18th Century
Courtesy of The Textile Museum
Gift of Mrs. Charles Putnam


Modern Turkey was preceded by seven centuries of rule by a succession of Ottoman Sultans. At the height of its power this dynasty ruled over an Empire that spanned the Balkans from Greece to the Austrian frontier, most of the Middle East, parts of North Africa, much of the Caucasus and the Crimea and at times parts of Italy, Poland and the Ukraine. The cities of Athens, Budapest, Belgrade, Sarajevo, Bucharest, Sofia, Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad, Jerusalem, Mecca, Cairo, Alexandria and Tunis were all, at some point, part of its territories. In focusing on the 17th to early 20th centuries, Flowers of Silk and Gold reveals the rich history and evolution of Ottoman embroidery traditions and examines how they reflect the history, geography and daily life of the Ottoman Sultans and their subjects. In conjunction with this exhibition, The Textile Museum is offering programs highlighting other aspects of Ottoman culture including Origins and Development of Traditional Ottoman Designs (May 4), The Spirit of Ottoman Architecture (May 11) and a Classical Turkish Music Concert (May 14). For more information and a virtual gallery of other items from this show, see Flowers of Silk and Gold Online at http://www.textilemuseum.org/fsg/

The Textile Museum was founded in 1925 by George Hewitt Myers with a collection of 275 rugs and 60 related textiles. Myers first became fascinated with textiles in college when he purchased an Oriental rug for his dormitory room. Over the years, his collecting tastes broadened and he continued to collect avidly until his death in 1957. By then his collection had expanded to encompass the textile arts of Africa, Asia and Latin America. George Hewitt Myers' discriminating eye and cosmopolitan tastes laid the foundation of The Textile Museum's unparalleled collection, which consists of over 16,000 objects spanning 5000 years. The Museum is committed to exploring the extraordinary role which textiles have played in the history and cultures of the world in order to further the understanding of mankind's creative achievements in this field. It functions as a center of excellence for the research, conservation, interpretation and exhibition of textiles, with an emphasis on the artistic, technical and cultural significance of its collections.

The Textile Museum

2320 S Street, NW
Washington, DC 20008-4088

phone: (202) 667- 0441
fax: (202) 483- 0994

website: http://www.textilemuseum.org/
e mail: info@textilemuseum.org

Museum hours: Mon.- Sat. 10 am to 5 pm, Sun. 1 pm to 5 pm

Flowers of Silk and Gold - Four Centuries of Ottoman Embroidery was curated by Sumru Belger Krody, Associate Curator, Eastern Hemisphere Collections, The Textile Museum. All images and textual information for this feature story have very generously been provided by The Textile Museum. Special thanks are extended to all personnel at The Textile Museum who made this presentation possible.

© 2001, The Textile Museum, 2320 S Street, NW; Washington, DC 20008

Uckur (sash)
Turkey
Ottoman Empire
Early 18th century

In 18th-century Ottoman Turkey, an uckur, or sash, was worn tied around the waist to hold up the baggy pants that were in style. Uckur were embroidered at both ends and when worn, the decorated ends would be visible hanging down. The embroidery was done in fine double running and satin stitches.

In Ottoman society, preparations for a woman's wedding began early in her life. Female family members would begin embroidering items for her trousseau soon after her birth, and when she was old enough she too would sew items for her future married life. Much of her time would be devoted to embroidery, decorating everyday items such as towels, covers, shirts, and sashes (uckur).


Plain weave, embroidery
Linen, silk
76 x 18 inches
The Textile Museum 1.2
Acquired by George Hewitt Myers in 1925

Reference Cited:
Krody, Sumru Belger, Flowers of Silk and Gold: Four Centuries of Ottoman Embroidery. Merrell Publishers Limited, 2000 London and The Textile Museum, Washington.

 





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