Flowers Made Of Sequins

The inspiration for many genres of art, flowers continue to glow with pristine freshness on Ottoman embroidery with sequins.

Inspired by the muses, the human imagination has depicted in Ottoman embroidery the divine face of nature in a vast array of forms using thread, fine gold and silver wire, and sequins. The light of the sun and moon and the gleam of the stars are reflected in embroidered creations of flowers, branches, leaves and vines using delicate silver and gold sequins. The Ottoman sequinned flower in a sense symbolizes the unity of earth and sky.
The Göktürks, the Seljuks, the twenty-four Oghuz tribes and the Ottomans all expressed their emotions, philosophy of life and religious beliefs through nature and flowers, perceiving the essence of the sacred in the flowers with which nature has blessed the earth. As a result, the Ottomans not only adorned  clothing, miniature paintings, tombstones and even their shields, cannons and rifles with flowers, but also decorated the interiors of their tents, bridal chambers, circumcision beds, and mosques large and small with carpets, tiles, elaborate wood carvings and works in many other branches of art, all displaying a plethora of floral, foliate and tendril motifs. They even depicted a dizzying array of flowers in the deserts into which they ventured.

Turkish homes and gardens were never without flowers. As people with no fixed dwelling place who lived as nomadic herdsmen, the Turks were well aware of the wild flowers in their environment. While their gardens were adorned with nature’s flowers, they also decorated every imaginable surface with manmade flowers. Floors, for example, were covered with carpets, kilims and cicims displaying motifs based on both wild and cultivated flowers. One alive, the other lifeless, one fragrant the other unscented, one wilting the other forever fresh, one a product of nature, the other a creation of the human mind. Flowers fashioned of sequins and metallic wire expressed the hope that happiness would never fade. As a source of inspiration to all branches of art, flowers served as a mode of non-verbal communication. Lovers sent each other messages in the language of flowers. A flower academy, known as the Meclis-i Şükûfe’ (‘Assembly of Blossoms’), is known to have existed in Istanbul. Şükûfe, which means flower or blossom, was also a style of decoration utilizing floral motifs, those developed by these academies being employed in all branches of art.
But plants and flowers did not find a use only in art; they were also used in the production of medications and dyes. There were even flower festivals in Istanbul and Bursa. The hilly banks of the Golden Horn and of the Sweet Waters of Europe were covered with gardens and fields of daffodils. When they bloomed, the populace—men, women and children alike—would flock to the gardens in droves. Caique cruises were even organized on the Golden Horn so people could inhale the sweet scent. In Bursa, the fragrance ceremony took place in hyacinth gardens. The women would don hyacinth-colored gowns and head-dresses decked with crepe of hyacinth hue and lace with hyacinth motifs. In Istanbul, it was traditional to line the window sills of houses, especially stately mansions and seaside villas, with potted hyacinths, and the rooms and large central halls would be redolent with their scent for a whole month.

The floral decorations fashioned with wafer-thin gold and silver sequins on palace embroidery were the epitome of elegance. Well-to-do urban families emulated this style in their daughters’ trousseaus, whose contents were elaborately worked with delicate sequins and therefore intended more for use on ceremonial days. Popular motifs included the tulip, hyacinth, violet, and chrysanthemum as well as leaves, branches, shoots and tendrils. Satin wrappers used for holding trousseaus and bath paraphernalia, as well as bridal veils, coin purses, bedspreads, pillows on which gifts were presented, and the covers used in the coffee ceremony are just some of the many items that were decorated with sequins. It was even traditional to make up the faces of young girls and brides with sequins.
A prospective bride’s trousseau included a wide array of needlework such as Turkish stitch, chain stitch, back stitch, straw stitch, herringbone stitch, and embroidery using gold and silver thread. In Ottoman times young girls in certain villages gathered outdoors on Fridays in summer to embroider. A large, four-legged embroidery hoop would be erected near a spring under trees that were regarded as sacred, and the needlework would begin. It was believed that any trousseau items embroidered under such conditions would bring good luck. This tradition persisted until recently in the villages of Karaburun in Izmir province, and sequins and metallic thread remain the shining symbol of happiness in the region even today.
Let us pause now and consider a story that actually happened. In the town of Mordoğan there was a young girl by the name of Ayşe who unfortunately was not fated to make use of the trousseau that was embroidered for her with such hope and fervor. One day she exacted a promise from her mother: “If I should die before I wed, sell my trousseau and have a small mosque built with the proceeds and display my trousseau inside it.” Her wish was fulfilled, and the Ayşe Kadın Mosque was built in Mordoğan and decorated like a room for displaying a trousseau with pictures of the trousseau’s contents on the walls and ceiling. This village mosque with its myriad floral decorations survives to this day.

Embroidering with sequins remains a strong tradition among the Turkish people even today. Young girls, for example, make pieces of sequinned crocheting which they then sew onto bath towels and flower-printed fabrics. Bedspreads for newlyweds and wrappers for trousseaus and bath accoutrements are embroidered with brilliant hyacinths so that they may bring love, happiness, joy and health to the home and the family line flourish. Bridal veils and shawls, handkerchiefs for the groom, and the red shawls with a star and crescent motif that are draped round the shoulders of young men going off to perform their military service are all painstakingly embroidered. Village girls and brides also decorate their faces with sequins and metallic wire.
A young wife whose husband is off to be a soldier applies sequins to a symbolic garment known as a ‘Mother Fatima caftan’, praying and counting the days until his return. On that joyful day, she sallies forth to meet her husband radiantly attired in this garment, which shines like the stars. Similarly, a young man returning from military service sports a red neckerchief embroidered with a sequin-encrusted star and crescent. Bridal veils too are decorated with embroidered tendrils in the hope that the couple will entwine themselves around each other and the family line prosper. Unlike nature’s flowers, flowers made of sequins never fade but always remain as fresh and bright as on the day they first bloomed.

The embroidery in the photographs is from the Sabiha Tansuğ Collection.