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1A 650 Year Craft TOKAT SCARVES

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  • TurkC-L
    Jul 15, 1998
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      A 650 Year Craft TOKAT SCARVES


      The story of mankind begins thousands of years ago with the hunting [Image]
      and gathering communities of the stone age. As time went by,
      however, man learnt to adapt and transform his environment to meet his own
      needs. When he added his emotions to this process, everything he created
      became not merely functional but also beautiful. If Tokat scarves had not
      incorporated the cultural and aesthetic values of centuries, they would
      have remained nothing but a simple head covering, and not worth writing
      about. The Hittites are thought to have been the first to print designs on
      fabric using carved blocks. Examples of seals made of fired clay by
      Hittites artists in 700 BC can be seen in museums, and the same dies were
      used to imprint patterns on cloth with vegetable dyes.

      The Hittite Empire included the province of Tokat, which inherited this
      ancient craft. Today twenty craftsmen and around one hundred apprentices
      still produce the traditional block print scarves in 32 workshops in
      Tokat'ss historical Yazmacilar Han (Building of Block Printed Scarf Makers),
      also known as Boyacilar Han (Building of Dyers).

      These scarves are known by various local vernacular names such as yazma,
      cit, yemeni, lece, cevre, hindi or cember, and have been made in Tokat and
      other parts of central Anatolia since the mid-13th century. Tokat became a
      centre of the craft in the 15th century, and produced its finest pieces
      during the 16th and 17th centuries. The name "yazma" is thought to derive
      from the similarity to handpainted designs on cloth produced by craftsmen
      in the 16th century.

      Yazmacilar Han is one of seven or eight such commercial buildings which
      existed in the city in Ottoman times, and it is still resisting the wear
      and tear of time. However, the municipality is preparing to move the
      workshops to new modern premises, so if you want to see this traditional
      craft in its traditional setting, it is time to visit Tokat and Yazmacilar

      Each workshop creates scarves using a hundred or more carved wooden blocks,
      each with a different motif. The greatest problem facing the scarf makers
      today is replacing the wooden dies when they wear out. Until 15 years ago
      there were still two traditional block carvers, Ali Sertoglu in Istanbul
      and Osman Laleci in Tokat, but since they have gone there has been no one
      to supply new ones. Osman Laleci used to carve his from lindens growing on
      the Black Sea coast. A local teacher has now started giving courses in
      carving the blocks to the inmates of Tokat Prison, and it is hoped that
      this will provided an urgently needed new source of supply, saving the
      traditional craft from a choice between extinction and the introduction of
      serigraphy printing.

      Only linden wood blocks can give the desired printing quality. In an
      interview in 1986, Osman Laleci explained that linden wood is soft enough
      to carve intricate designs, yet durable, and absorbs the dye well. "The
      best linden wood for this purpose comes from trees growing in areas of high
      humidity, particularly on the sea coast. This takes the dye well, and
      produces a crisp imprint on the muslin." He went on to say that if the
      blocks are well cared for they will last for over 200 years, which explains
      why the scarf makers have been able to manage without a new supply of
      blocks for so long. In the blocks the history of the craft can be traced
      through its motifs, even if few examples of the scarves themselves have
      survived. Some of the motifs have names which give an idea of their age,
      such as that called the 'monogram of Abdulhamit', dating from the reign of
      Sultan Abdulhamit (1876-1909). The blocks are carved with a set of small
      bladed knives called 'kalemtrash', the most important of which is the
      'nakishbul' used for the fine carving.

      As important as the blocks themselves is the printing surface, which
      consists of a wooden table covered with felt, overlaid with a special
      fabric known as 'alca'. The muslin scarves are stretched out and the wooden
      blocks pressed directly onto the fabric. Excess dye is not removed.
      Preparing the dyes to get just the right consistency and desired colours is
      one of the key skills. In the past only vegetable dyes were used, but today
      chemical dyes have largely taken over. At most four colours are used for
      each scarf.

      Today the craftsmen of Yazmacilar Han do not only produce the traditional
      head scarves worn by women, but table cloths, quilt facings, duvet covers,
      pillow cases, and fabric lengths which city women use to make skirts,
      blouses and waistcoats.

      While most traditional motifs are floral, others represent fruits such as
      cherries, apples and chestnuts, animal motifs such as that known as
      'cockerel's tail', and symbolic motifs such as cengelkoy, hamamiye, and the
      black and white liberty motifs. Different regions have their own
      characteristic colour schemes and range of motifs.

      The story of the yazma does not end when the scarves reach the shop
      shelves. Having chosen their new scarf, women must now make an edging of
      needle lace or coloured beads. This edging is the individual finishing
      touch, adding their own skill to that of the block printers. Edgings have
      their own repertoire of motifs, which are continually invented and
      exchanged with others. Everywhere in Turkey it is possible to see girls and
      women busy at their needle lace as they stand in the street or sit on their
      doorsteps. The final result is a work of art into which meanings going back
      many centuries have been poured.

      * Dr. L. Dogan Tilic is a journalist.