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Embroidery and lace of Mudurnu
2002 / AUGUST

If you visit the villages around Mudurnu in northwest Turkey this winter after it has been snowing, you will see mist rising towards the high hilltops, ice particles glittering on the wooden fences, pumpkins heaped on the balconies of the houses with their zinc roofs, and slender icicles hanging from the needles of the pine trees. Until a century ago Mudurnu was renowned for its needle lace that was sold all over Turkey. When Evliya Çelebi visited the town in 1640, he saw rows of needle lace shops and spoke with admiration of the beautiful trimmings in colourful designs. With the coming of the machine age this traditional cottage industry went into decline, but it is still possible to find needle lace in Mudurnu's weekly market, and local women treasure the lace and embroidery that their mothers and grandmothers before them made for their trousseaus, particularly the beautiful bridal headdresses of needle lace roses. When Nevzat Anlitan's mother died five years ago at the age of 76, her trousseau chest that she had lovingly preserved since she was a child was opened, revealing its remarkable store of treasures.

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Embroidery and lace of Mudurnu
2002 / AUGUST

Until then no one in her family had known about the lovely embroideries and lace that it contained. Each of the wonderful pieces of embroidery on silk and linen must have taken months of loving work to complete. They are a world away from the modern needlework made to sell cheaply, its original motifs debased into simple designs worked in metal strip on poor quality black muslin, or in faded colours to give a deceptive appearance of age. Anlitan's mother Mukaddes Hanım was born into the wealthy local Kaza family, and upon her death her family found themselves in possession of her needlework heirlooms passed down to her from her own family. They were over 200 years old, and no one knew to whom they had originally belonged. This type of embroidery is no longer made in Mudurnu, and few remain who know the symbolism of the motifs. It is thought that the embroideries may have been trousseau pieces given to Mukaddes Hanim by her paternal grandmother Leyla Hanim.

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Embroidery and lace of Mudurnu
2002 / AUGUST
Some are embroidered in silk on a silk foundation in the technique known as mülver, worked on a four-legged embroidery frame that rested on the ground. The nearby town of Göynük used to be renowned for this type of embroidery, at a time when tulum cheese was made from ewes milk and sold in Istanbul, where the traders used the proceeds to buy printed cottons for selling in the city of Bolu northeast of Mudurnu. In those days every family in Mudurnu made their own butter and other dairy products, and kept a flock of geese. When a girl from one of the town's wealthy families married, exquisite mülver embroideries used to be hung on the walls of the brid'si house. After the wedding was over they were carefully stored in her trousseau chest, being far too precious for the wear and tear of daily use. Their motifs, each of which has a special name, seem to be inspired by birds' wings, cypresses, insects, waves, fish, ships, towers, tombs, and flowers. Sometimes the designs combine these motifs with the metal strip embroidery for which the Black Sea coast town of Bartin used to be famous.
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Embroidery and lace of Mudurnu
2002 / AUGUST

Napkins, sashes, handkerchiefs and other items are embroidered in silks of purple, pink, and light and dark green, and the designs display not only skill but the creativity of the needlewoman in compositions that are each like an abstract picture. Although mülver work has become a thing of the past, I was happy to discover that crochet and needle lace are still to be found in Mudurnu market, alongside the kanlica mushrooms (Lactarius deliciosus), homemade macaroni, cheeses and thyme water. The motifs of the local lace are countless, including almond, autumn rose, oak leaf, carnation, grape, fern, pansy (worked in purple), artificial pansy (worked in blue and pink), wheel of fate, mulberry and star. Mudurnu was a traditional centre of the mediaeval ahi fraternities of tradesmen, for whom the offering of hospitality was an essential precept, and some of these traditions have survived to the present day. For example, every Friday the Prayer of the Tradesmen is recited, and all the tradesmen still contribute to a joint fund that is used to help those in need.

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Embroidery and lace of Mudurnu
2002 / AUGUST

Ahi Culture Week takes place every year in October, during the week beginning on the second Monday of the month. Visitors at that time will notice a poster reading 'Mudurnu, a Halt on the Silk Road,' reminding them that the town was not always the quiet provincial backwater that it is today. In celebration of this festival local girls dress in the graceful traditional costume for historical fashion shows. Some of the men accompany them, wearing traditional trousers known as gildiran, white shirts known as göynek and fezes. Traditional Mudurnu bridal dresses continue to be worn by girls in the villages of the district. These are embroidered in gold and silver designs known as bindalli (a thousand branches). The bride first wears this beautiful outfit on the henna night, with a headdress of needle lace roses and a red sequinned veil. A second type of dress worn by the bride during the daytime is known as altiparmak, and has a striped design which symbolises yearning.

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Embroidery and lace of Mudurnu
2002 / AUGUST

A silver belt is worn around the waist. The groo'sd mother wears a jacket with a design of interlacing branches similar to that of the wedding dress. Some families in need of money sell these magnificent marriage outfits passed down from generation to generation to tourists in Mudurnu, but at least the people are now aware of the value of their mülver embroideries, and no longer exchange them for plastic kitchenware sold by door-to-door salesmen!

* Nezahat Turkan is a freelance writer.

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