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Silver strip embroidery
2003 / September

Embroidery known as telkirma worked with silver strip glistens unmistakably. As bright as the fish in the Bartin river, and as unexpectedly heavy when you take it in your hands. This means that the scarves worn by the women of Bartin do not blow about in the wind and the shawls on their shoulders do not slip. Telkirma can adorn other accessories, like purses, handkerchiefs, cigarette cases and evening bags; or household linen such as tablecloths and even curtains which glint in the morning light. This embroidery is known to have originated in Bartin in the 17th century. Until factory made textiles took over in the 20th century, the people of this Black Sea province wove all the linen they needed for clothing and the home on handlooms. Linen is made of flax, a plant which used to be widely cultivated in the region. When the plant was fully grown it was pulled up by the roots, tied in bunches like leeks and left to dry in the sun. The bunches were then attached to piles driven into the river bed, and stones placed on top of them to prevent the currents from sweeping them away.

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Silver strip embroidery
2003 / September

The water rotted and softened the core of the stems, making it possible to separate the outer fibres which are the raw material for linen. The bunches were left to dry again, pounded with wooden mallets to separate the fibres, passed through a tool known as a mengelez, and combed with iron combs. The flax was then ready to spin into thread using a spinning wheel or distaff. The balls of flax were then buried in pits the depth of a man dug on the river bank, with channels at the base leading into the river. They were covered with woodash, and for a week boiling water heated in cauldrons was poured over them to flush away the impurities. This dirty water poured out of the pit through the channel at the base. After a week the balls of flax were pure white and soft, ready to be woven into cloth. Although the production of linen has declined in recent decades, many women still possess bolts of handwoven linen in their trousseau chests, and continue to use these for telkirma embroidery.

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Silver strip embroidery
2003 / September
The silver strip is made of copper gilded with silver, and is worked with handmade needles produced specifically for this embroidery by local craftsmen. Some of the motifs have fascinating names, like Plate of Cream in the shape of a star, and Drunken Street, which is a complex meander motif requiring skill and experience. Arched Bridge is a motif named after Bartin's famous bridge. Elderly women in the province will tell you that nearly a century ago snow fell in August, and the sight of roses blooming under the carpet of snow inspired a telkirma motif that is still worked today called 'Snow Fell on the Rose.' Many other nameless motifs inspired by nature are composed into imaginative designs. In the past women took their silver strip embroidery so to heart, that if the work was not seen by anyone else, or seen but no one thought to admire her work, she would write her own words of praise in the old Turkish script. 'What a beautiful sheet this is,' might be found neatly embroidered in one corner.
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Silver strip embroidery
2003 / September

Traditionally telkirma embroidery was worked only on linen, and on such items as pillow covers, scarves, skirt hems, towels and napkins. These formed every brid'ss trousseau, and at her marriage were displayed on the walls for guests to admire. Today cotton is used as well as linen, and telkirma embroidery is so popular that the range of items on which it is used has expanded widely. One popular modern use is on black netting, the contrast of colour showing up the silver well. The strips are joined to each other by bending, and great care and patience is needed to count the fine linen threads in forming the design. No shortcuts like drawn patterns are used. A single miscounted thread will show up after hours of work, when you find that the motifs which should join up at the last corner are wrongly aligned. Sometimes silver strip embroidery is incorporated into counted thread work with coloured threads. Beautiful examples of this work can be seen in Amasra, a picturesque seaside town near Bartin. Rows of shops on Cekiciler Street here sell antique and traditional embroideries made for trousseaus.

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Silver strip embroidery
2003 / September

In counted thread work both sides of the embroidery are identical, and this makes it extremely difficult and time-consuming. Modern embroideries often therefore use tapestry stitch on coarser cloth to work traditional designs. Even those who do continue to embroider in counted stitch say that they cannot match the antique work however hard they try, and believe that the technique must have been different in some way. Motifs combining silver strip and counted thread work also have fascinating names, such as Garden Beauty, Black Grape Branch, Beauty at the Window, Torch of Hidrellez, and The Twins. So visit Bartin one day, buy a telkirma shawl, stroll down the tree-shaded banks of the Bartưn River, and look at an old sailing barge. Then drive on to Amasra, visit Cekiciler Street, and enjoy the view over the Black Sea as the sun sets.

* Nezahat Turkan is a freelance writer

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