Delicate “Oya” form Turkey

In the backstreets of Istanbul, with the many small textile shops, I first discovered the beautiful handmade trimmings called oya. I was intrigued by the fine needlework and variations in colour and design. Traditionally oya is used to decorate scarves and household textiles, such as sheets, table cloths and towels. The yarns the women used were mostly cotton and silk. Modern oya is also used to create jewellery and synthetic yarns like nylon and polyester are widely used.


Some research learned me that there are more types of oya. The needle made oya (see picture) is the only 3 dimensional needlework. The other types are crochet oya, tatting oya (a knotting technique) and hairpin oya are they are all flat. The various techniques are sometimes combined with beads.


Many oya motifs are inspired by nature and include chilli peppers, flowers (chrysanthemums, daisies, roses and tulips), leaves, as well as birds and butterflies. Every region has its own style of lace: small and delicate, large and brightly coloured, with or without beads.


Although oya has been made in Turkey for centuries and is now regarded as being typically Turkish, it is likely that oya, and in particular needle-made oya, is a descendant of Italian embroidered laces, notably Venetian needlepoint lace. For several hundreds of years, from about 1500 onwards, there were close social and mercantile links between Istanbul and Venice and from there with other European and Ottoman cities. It is known that lace was traded during this period.


The ‘flat’ forms of oya have other origins. Crochet, for instance, seems to have been developed in France or Italy. Hairpin lace was a late eighteenth century development, possibly starting in England. Tatting also appears to have originated in eighteenth century Britain, but it was not until the 1870’s that picots (small loops) were introduced, which quickly became a feature of tatting and oya in particular.


Now, in different regions of Turkey there are initiatives where they make jewellery with the local variant of oya. I was happy to discover that the Dutch brand Ottomania had its own collection developed with this beautiful handicraft technique. Usually several women work on a collective basis. This keeps the regions distinctive, beautiful traditional handicrafts alive and gives the craftsmen an income.


Source:, Textile Research Centre Leiden.

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