Finding the Cloth for the Clothes:
Traditional Textiles and Dress in Turkey
September 1997- January 1998
Elizabeth Schmeck Brown Gallery

This exhibition was the outcome of field research conducted by Charlotte Jirousek, Curator of the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection. It is an examination of the rich variety of handmade textiles that comprised Turkish traditional dress.

In the nineteenth century urban Turkish dress retained its traditional character. The man's costume on the left was acquired by Charles Langdon c. 1869 in Alexandria Egypt, where he had his photograph taken with a friend (possibly Samuel Clemens) and his interpreter. (Click on image to see the photograph.) The style is Ottoman Turkish, not Arab, and was the dress of government throughout the Ottoman Empire. On the right is lady's ensemble typical of the early nineteenth century, showing the rich combinations of textures and materials used. (Click on image to see detail.)

Vividly colored striped textiles are the hallmark of traditional Turkish dress, once worn by almost everyone, at least on special occasions. Silk warps provided the color, held together by a cotton weft that was not visible on the surface. The pre-eminent color scheme involved red and yellow, but also many other colors. The complex satin weaves (kutnu) might be done in any one of hundreds of patterns. The simpler plain weave of alaca could have two colors or up to eight. In Gaziantep there are still weavers and dyers active who are producing this cloth, which can be viewed as the Turkish equivalent of Scottish tartan, a universal and essential textile for traditional dress. (To see enlargements of the exhibit photographs and garments, click on the image links).

These costumes were acquired by the donors in 1914 when they were working with a mission aid group in Southeastern Turkey. They are everyday clothing of Kurdish villagers, much used and patched. Most of the fabrics involved are handwoven, and some appear to be woven from hand spun cotton and wool. Everyday clothing of ordinary people from this part of the world is extremely rare, and invaluable for the study of traditional textiles and dress in this region.

This costume is composed entirely of handwoven fabrics. The typically striped outer coat is similar to the silk striped fabrics seen in a case display shown above, but this coat is woven of handspun wool, dyed with locally available madder dye, and trimmed with hand made black wool lace edging. This coat probably was worn by the woman who made it; she is believed to have been from Eastern Anatolia, probably of nomad origin.