Heavenly meets hasty

BY Catherine Bayar | August 8, 2010

CS Bayar

Some works of art have a human side

Imagine making clothing for your own auspicious day. Dreaming up what to create might be easy, if you come from a Turkmen tribe in Central Asia. Traditional garments in this region take on uniform shapes: the open front ‘kaftan’ with square cut armholes and three-quarter sleeves and length, or the similar ‘chapan’, with flat sleevelike extensions at the shoulders, worn as a cape. Both styles are worn as over-garments, cut quite close to the body and held tight with a wrapped waistband of silk or wool.
While the garment shape is a given and the decorative motifs take on a certain uniformity in terms of placing red, gold and cream embroidery along the edges of body and sleeves, sometimes we see garments that show the personality of the artisan who made it. The entire body of this chapan is covered in intricate cloud motifs in the finest of silk threads, on a very dark green hand-loomed silk.
These coats are always lined to give them stability, but this fragile shell was stabilized by quilting it to denim. Plain ordinary 100% cotton serge de nimes, the French twill made legendary by Levi Strauss during the California Gold Rush. Just edges are visible on the inside of the garment, which takes another multicultural twist: on top of the denim, this creative artisan placed Russian trade cottons, prints in vibrant shades of green and turquoise with pink and gold flowers. What pleases me is the contrast here: ornate handwork combined with everyday practicality and patchwork, one painstaking and the other slapdash. Even auspicious days needn’t be perfect!
A note from Catherine:
We live in a carpet shop. Well, actually the shop is on the first two floors; we live on the fourth. Our building’s in Sultanahmet, the heart of Istanbul’s Old City. When not sneaking peeks from the rooftop at our neighbors, the Byzantine Hagia Sophia and the Ottoman Topkapi Palace, this history-smitten Californian is marveling at the treasures within our walls, collected from all along the Silk Road. Not just handwoven carpets, but intricately embroidered suzanis, ornate Central Asian clothing and hand-wrought jewelry made of vintage silver and semiprecious stones. I’d like to share some of the wonders I’ve seen in my 12 years in Turkey, starting right here on Kutlugun Sokak, Auspicious Day Street.