Oya, The Ancient Art of Needle Lace
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The Language of Oya By Laurie Gonyea

I have to admit, when Kara asked me to write a guest post about Turkish Oya lace, I was little concerned. Being married to a journalist, he always says, “write what you know,” and that, therein, was my problem.  All I really knew about Oya, was that I had fallen in love with it.  I knew I loved the intricate, handmade motifs, with some that looking more like sculpture than lace. I knew I was intrigued with the ancient technique of creating realistic flowers with just a needle and thread, and I knew I needed to know more about Igne oyasi.  So, here I go.  The post may read more like a high school research paper at times, but after doing the research for this post, I can honestly say, I now know a little bit about Igne oyasi – Turkish needle lace, and so will you.

“Igne oyasi” means “needle lace embroidery” in Turkish, and is one of the most beautiful and ancient lace forms in existence. Traditionally, the lace was made by Turkish women to adorn the linens for their daughter’s wedding trousseaus, but today it is used as an embellishment for knitwear, clothing and household goods, as well as for earrings, necklaces, and belts.

Historically, Igne oyasi was made using silk thread and was the lace found most often in the palaces of the Ottoman Empire.  Today still, it is very popular among the Turkish elite and is highly sought after and very collectible. Modern Oya is rarely made with silk, using instead cotton thread, but the outcome is no less stunning. Taking inspiration from the spectacular variety of flowers and fauna found in the Turkish countryside, women create this 3-D lace using only a small sewing needle.  It is made by taking the needle and thread and forming loops which are tightened into knots.  The tightness of the knots creates small square and triangular stitches.  As many as five colors of thread can be used in one motif. Traditionally, horsehair was woven in to stiffen the lace and to help form the flower petals.  Today, horsehair is rarely used, and instead thin wire or plastic thread serves the purpose.  Most times the lace is starched to help the motif keep its shape.

As the craft evolved, the various lace motifs began to take on certain symbolic meanings. It was almost like a secret language between the women.  Women would wear “crowns” of oya with different flowers depending upon their age. Old ladies wore tiny wild flowers symbolizing the return of ‘dust to dust”. Young women and brides wore roses, arbor roses, carnations, jasmine, hyacinths, violets, daffodils, chrysanthemums and fuchsia, each of them carrying a “secret” message through the shapes and colors of the flowers.  Yellow daffodils, for instance, signified hopeless love.  A wife whose husband had gone abroad to work would wrap wild rose oya around her head.  Young ladies who were betrothed to the man they loved wore pink hyacinths and almond blossoms, while a girl in love wore purple hyacinths.  An unhappy bride who chose Pepper Spice for her crown was declaring the marriage doomed from the start, but if she choose red pepper, she was indicating her relationship was spicy and red hot!  Who knew lace could be so communicative!

This ancient art of lace making is enjoying a resurgence and is becoming very popular as a way to embellish handcrafted garments. Using oya instead of beads as the trim on a scalloped edge of a handknit shawl is a way to show off these beautifully handcrafted flowers.  In my necklace, Flora, designed for Creative Knitting’s, Make It This Weekend special interest issue, I used pink oya flowers which I feel really makes the necklace “pop” and is the perfect accessory for this spring.

Flora, designed by Laurie Gonyea for Make It This Weekend, a special interest issue of Creative Knitting magazine.

For a close-up look at Oya, please visit my website – www.knitouttathebox.com.


6 Responses to Oya, The Ancient Art of Needle Lace

  1. deborah lewis says:

    I loved this article. I am a painter and a sculptor who began by knitting and still love fiber. Deb Lewis

  2. marion says:

    Would love to make this necklace for my grandaughters, can I get the pattern somewhere please. love the design.

  3. Sandra says:

    Wow! I’ve seen Italian needle lace tablecloths and big pieces like that, but these flowers look doable and so cute. I love the idea of using them like beads on the edge of a shawl. I am going to check these out!

  4. Yarn Bazaar says:

    Wow, those are adorable. I wonder if where I could get some patterns to follow, that would be great for finishing touches!

  5. Pia Suter says:

    I like these laces, is there a book in German or English available?


  6. Jenny says:

    Amazing article, would really like to try making the Oya lace… I. am learning to make English bobbin lace and crochet. Would like advise on where to obtain patterns.


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