The Colorful World Of Patch

We take a look here at a colorful world that is attracting more and more people by the day… the world of patchwork.

Every evening without fail the aroma of Turkish coffee and the pungent scent of walnuts waft out of windows and half open doors into Perihan Abla Street at Kuzguncuk.  The sound of women’s laughter mingles with the hum of sewing machines. But the union of needle and thread and a riot of fabrics are the real focus here. Frenzied preparations are under way. The Textiles Arts Society is getting ready to hold their Patchwork Exhibition, May 5-16. Besides Turkey there will be examples from Austria, Belgium, England, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Japan and the U.S. We took the exhibition as an excuse to explore the friendly and colorful world of patchwork.

Known by a number of different names in Turkish, patchwork is the sandwich-like joining together of tiny squares of different kinds of cloth. It goes like this: The first patch forms the surface, the second or intermediate layer provides the fiber, and the third layer is another patch of cloth sewn underneath. Together, these three layers, sewn together by the quilting technique known as ‘Kapitone’ or ‘yorganlama’ in Turkish, produce a single padded quilt, or ‘patchwork’ to us. Born of need in earlier times, this occupation is an art, a hobby, indeed a rage today that is becoming more popular by the minute. What’s more, it is not the province of women alone but also of men!  So it’s high time we mentioned a couple    patchwork masters, both of whom are men. The first is John Flynn. A civil engineer by training, Flynn started doing patchwork to help his wife and was so successful that he abandoned his profession. Now he designs his own products and has his own trademark. He writes books on the subject and gives patchwork classes at international festivals. Another prize-winning patchwork artist is Ricky Tims, who has his own studio in Colorado. Also a musician, Tims has even talked his father, a retired truck driver, into doing patchwork!

Patchwork arose out of a concern to use up the old scraps of fabric everyone has lying around. According to some sources, it originated in Central Asia, according to others in Egypt. The oldest existing example of patchwork today was found in the tomb of a Scythian tribal chief. Animal motifs adorn this specimen, which is thought to date to the period between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D. We know from the travel writings of Marco Polo that Buddhist priests wore robes made of patchwork and that Silk Road merchants left behind at temples along the way pieces of patchwork from which a variety of covers and other items were made.Even though patchwork came from Asia to Europe with the Crusades, making its way from there to the Americas, it is the West, not the East, the U.S. in particular, that is the center of patchwork today. As a country where an industry immediately springs up around every hobby, the U.S. is now the cradle of patchwork, albeit for commercial purposes. Every marriageable young woman today has in her trousseau a few patchwork quilts, such as the coveted Double Wedding Ring quilts and Baltimore Album Samplers, hand-appliquéd with silk and velvet and ‘yo-yo’ puffs.Done differently in every country, patchwork is used as a vehicle for expressing political views in Central and South America. In India and Pakistan tiny mirrors are used in the designs, while African patchwork stands out for its plain, geometric shapes. One of the countries where the most beautiful patchwork is done is Japan. Famous for their patience, Japanese women combine their refined taste with their national culture to produce some of the finest examples of this art. And the latest favorite with the Japanese patchwork artists is none other than our familiar Turkish embroidery!

We have to go back very far for the history of patchwork in Turkey. To the Ottoman Empire and even earlier. The most beautiful examples in those days are seen on tents and baldachins. Commissioned to the Palace ‘Nakkaşhane’ or imperial art studio, and appliquéd with designs in keeping with the art currents of the day, these tents were quite ostentatious since they were used outside the palace and imperial pavilions.
Used in everyday life in prayer mats, garments, bags, tablecloths and bedspreads, patchwork has another close relative in Turkey in the form of the ‘yorgan’ or quilt, made of a single piece of cloth with a thick, warm intermediate layer of filling. Although the number of Turkish yorgan makers is diminishing by the day, patchwork remains a creative and much-loved pastime that has entered the lives of many people in the last 20-30 years. Putting the handmade vs machine-made debate aside, those who devote themselves to patchwork find themselves in a colorful world of friendship and solidarity. The minute you cross the threshold into the patchwork workshop, you realize that the little squares of cloth are just a part of it. Let us leave the last word to Selma Kenter, one of the founders of the Textiles Arts Society: “Patchwork has taught us the fine points of patience, striving, sharing and being productive.”

•  The pieces of cloth you use should be of the same type: either all synthetic or all cotton.
•  The cloth pieces should be of equal thickness.
•  If you want to use very thin, slippery fabrics, you should definitely fasten them in place with adhesive buckram.
•  All cloth used should be laundered in advance to guard against shrinkage and running colors.