Colors of Turkey

Festival Program


Featuring handcrafts of Nallihan, a province of Ankara,  the exhibition offers examples of matchless, elegant silk needlework, each piece having a different story to tell. 
The Exhibition is a part of a series, initiated in 2004 by the Vehbi Koc Foundation and the Vehbi Koc and Ankara Research Center to promote cultural heritage of Ankara and environs. 
Friday, November 4, 2005   6:00pm-8:30pm
Gallery Hours: 
Monday, Wednesday, Friday  5:00pm-7:00pm
Saturday - Sunday  1:00pm-5:00pm 
Closed on: Nov. 18-20 and Nov. 24-27
November 4 - November 30, 2005
The Gallery, Curry Center, First Floor
Northeastern University, Boston
In cooperation with the Vehbi Koc Foundation (VKV) and the Vehbi Koc and Ankara Research Center (VEKAM)
Co-sponsored by the Turkish Graduate Student Association at Northeastern University






Needlework is fine lace usually made with doubly twisted silk thread using a needle, shuttle, crochet hook and hairpin. Depending on what tools, materials and techniques are used in its making; there are several types of needlework, such as crochet-hook, shuttle, hairpin, cocoon, wool, wax, bead, and woven needlework.

Historically, the chief reason that the art of needlework developed in Anatolia was that the region lay athwart the Silk Route and was the site of silk production. Needlework and the knits that were devised is this region spread from Anatolia to the Balkans in the 12th century and thence via Italy to Europe.




This handcraft, so demanding of patience, is native to the Ankara county of Nallihan and, quite apart from its role as an element of dress and adornment is imbued with deeper meanings which are expressed through an original language. Needlework is one way in which the Anatolian women expresses her and conveys her thoughts and feelings. Rather than communicating what is in her mind with words, she has found different ways to tell her joy, pain, resentment and hope through handicrafts, and worked up a visual language consisting of messages that are sometimes witty and sometimes biting and sarcastic.

Through colors and shapes, needlework expresses such emotions as love, pain, remorse, anger, disappointment, happiness and exuberance, and even conveys thoughts and feelings arising from social events and interactions.


Nestling in the triangle formed by Ankara, Eskisehir and Bolu, Nallihan in the Western Black Sea Region is a county of Ankara that is famous for its natural and cultural riches. Over the ages, Nallihan has been ruled not only by the Hittites, Phrygians, Bithynians and Macedonians but also by the empire of Persia, Rome, and Byzantium. It was first invaded during the Arab campaigns against Istanbul, and conquered by the Turks following their victory at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071. The county seat of Nallihan got its name when in 1599 the vizier Nasuh Pasha built a han or caravanserai in the region. Legend has it that the folk poet Koroglu lodged for one night at this han while passing through the region, and that the next morning as he was leaving a horseshoe fell from the hoof of his steed. It is believed that this horseshoe or nal was picked up and hung over the portal of the han, and that the name of the place thus has connection with this folk poet. Most of the populace of Nallihan makes its living from farming and livestock breeding. Two of the county's main source of income is the breeding of Angora goats and the cultivation of silkworms. In addition, the fact that silkworms are widely cultivated in the county has led to the proliferation of needlework there. In our day of silk obtained from the worms is largely sold to merchants, but from one to one-and-a-half kilograms per year is set aside to be used for needlework in the county households.


The Preparing of the Silk:
Needlework is an indispensable part of a trousseau, and it starts with the preparation of the silk. The cultivation of silkworms begins with seeds obtained from the directorate of agriculture. The fruit of careful, long labor in the home, the cocoons are cooked in frying pans as the neighbors pitch in, and as they cook a stick is stirred among them until fibers of silk of the desired thickness attach to them. These silk fibers are then shaped into skeins and dried, after which they are ready for dyeing.
The Dyeing of the Silk:
Silk is generally given its color using natural dyes such as walnut shells and leaves, blackberries, quinine, tea, coffee, linden, pomegranate rind, eggplant skin and onionskin. From these natural substances are obtained the colors mauve, dark mauve, green, dark green, mustard yellow, light coffee, cream, reddish beige, light yellow, and purple, while other colors are obtained using purchased dyes.
The Shaping of Motifs:
In doing needlework the motifs are usually vegetal: fruits, leaves and special flowers. However, there are also figures such as the butterfly, "symbolic" motifs such as capkin biyigi "Casanova's mustache" and "saray supurgesi" the palace broom, objects such as the basket and handbag, and various geometric motifs. Not content with this range of motifs, the women in their creativity can turn into needlework some wildflower they happen to see while walking.
The Shaping of Compositions:
In needlework, a flower or leaf is considered a motif in itself, and the arrangement of such motifs in various ways gives rise to different compositions with such names as union, yemeni (kerchief), aigrette, crown, branch, flowerpot, and purse. Motifs may be distributed on the base at 7- to 8- centimeter intervals, or cover the base in its entirety. There are three main types of needlework; plain, pipe and fill, with cotton as the fill material. There is no need to use any special material to stiffen the work, as natural stiffness of the silk suffices. However, if the stiffening of bouquet needlework and the like is required, a copper wire or horsehair is used. Needlework thus prepared is sewn to the edges or scattered across the surface, of scarves, handkerchiefs, tablecloths and various household textiles
The publications of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism have been supplemented by those in the private sector, with more variety and output in both cases, leading to increased interest in handicrafts, especially needlework, interest which has also been stimulated by the courses offered in community centers, universities, trade schools for girls, and various civil societies. Until recently the art of needlework seemed threatened with extinction, but now with these courses, and thanks also to needlework competitions, it has been stylized in various ways and become a part of everyday life.
Culture, Silk Needlework and Daily Life:
Needlework today embodies new, topical and differing functional meanings apart from those which are traditional. Needlework penetrates into almost every area of daily life, swiftly findings its way into products connected with fashion, accessories and dining as well as architectural interiors. On necklaces and clothing, or such accessories as bracelets and handbags; on placemats and napkin-holders and even bookmarks, these motifs have managed to come out of the private into the general sphere, each transformed in the process into a kind of "surplus value". Through the areas in which it is used change with time, the silent language of silk needlework, and the symbols that are part of it, manage to be deathless in passing from generation to generation "cultural transmission" and from one society to another "cultural diffusion" --- and this is one of the most striking features of Nallihan's cultural heritage.
Needlework in Folk Poetry:
In the Nallihan area women get together to do needlework, and in some phases of the operation, especially the making of the skeins and the dyeing, everybody pitches in. These activities have a social dimension, and are accompanied by folk poems and songs. The visual language of needlework is subject of certain poems recited among the people. 
"The slender waist of my beloved
He'd be mad not to embrace it
My bride, you are very happy
That's clear from the daisy on your head"