Sunday, 8 July 2012

İstanbul (not Constantinople)

Yeah, there's been a bit of radio silence around here lately, sorry about that. The nice reasons for that have been a holiday to İstanbul and a weekend in London, the nasty reasons have been a dose of the sultan's revenge and two weeks of painful sinusitis... So here's a little round up of the nice things, starting with İstanbul.

We made a last minute decision to go here for our third wedding anniversary (aww), and I'm extremely glad we did. I absolutely loved the place, and the four days we spent there was nowhere near enough time. We mainly did the tourist "must-sees" this time (Topkapı Palace, Aya Sofya, Blue Mosque etc), but did squeeze in a bit of time for some fabric shopping. Next time we go though (and there will be a next time) I think we need to devote at least two full days for shopping! Next time I would like to bring back some ceramics, and also a tea set. Plus of course more fabric.

I was a little worried before I left, having heard horror stories about conmen, women being hassled and terrible toilets, but the place was wonderful - I found people very friendly, shopkeepers were definitely pushy but easily politely turned down or ignored (although tricky for a Brit!), and everywhere we visited had such a bustling but somehow laid back vibe. Oh, and the food! Delicious, even for a vegetarian.

I also learnt a lot, and was very inspired to learn more - I basically knew absolutely nothing about the Byzantine Empire, and I'm now reading a book about it and have found that it was huge and hugely influential. I also knew very little about the Ottoman Empire, and plan on researching that more shortly too. The Islamic art and decoration in the palaces and mosques is just beautiful, for example the beautiful İzmit ceramic tiles. (Click on the pictures below for larger views).

I also adore the beauty found in arabic calligraphy. Obviously the Turkish language now uses a latin alphabet, but all of the Ottoman decoration is in the arabic script, and there was an exhibition of religious calligraphy in Aya Sofya when we went. I have a beautiful book called Arabesque which gives many examples of modern and secular arabic graphic design. (Again, click on the pictures below for larger views).

Anyway enough of that, what about the fabric shopping?! I'd heard mixed reports about buying fabric and haberdashery in İstanbul. I had it in my mind that it was some kind of paradise with shops specialising in anything you want, but I couldn't remember where I'd heard that, and when I searched, I found less glowing reports. So I did what any respectable fabric tourist does - have a random wander and see what you come across.

And it worked! I totally wish I'd taken more photos (this is always my refrain after holidays), not least so I could actually find these places next time I go. Maps of the Grand Bazaar mark the main fabric area. There is a lot of crud, but rummage and search a bit and there seemed to be many gems - I actually ended up buying the meagre amount of fabric I brought back with me from Gülipek Tekstil in the Grand Bazaar. They have three shops, although I only visited two of them (one sold ikat and scarfs, the other sold mainly silks plus embroidered house linens), and the service was brilliant.

However, have a wander around the streets to the north and just northeast of the Grand Bazaar, and there are many many many fabric and notions shops. Something I loved about İstanbul was that all the small shops around the bazaar district specialised in pretty much one thing, so along with the shops selling just weighing scales or saws, there were also shops selling just buttons, elastic, cording or lace. I also found an entire street of shops selling suiting and wools, I think it was Nuruosmaniye Caddesi, but don't quote me on that. Next time I'm back I am taking a list of things I need and setting aside a day or two to browse...

So what did I buy in the end? Well, just two silks:

The first is a piece of handwoven silk ikat. Is this not just beautiful?! Ikat fabric is super super narrow, so it's a slight splurge, despite only being 25TL per metre (about 13CHF or £9). I want to make this the centre front panel of a dress, with darker side panels and short sleeves. However this will require some careful planning as I have a sort of fairly unfitted 60s style shift in my mind's eye, although I know this style doesn't suit me. I need to work out how to make something that is a bit more fitted, but still doesn't disrupt the pattern too much.

The second is some gorgeous silk fine twill, in a fairly hard to find 140cm width. I've realised that this is the same print (in a different colourway) to one of the fabrics the Selfish Seamstress bought! The price was excellent too, I think it was 35TL per metre (about 19CHF or £12). I didn't haggle, I'm too British, and the price was too fair! This is destined to be a fairly relaxed shirt-dress, although the details are a bit vague in my head currently.

I did actually make a few things to wear there, as I wanted some summery appropriate clothes that were a bit more covered up, so I could go in mosques (and look a little less touristy). I made a jersey maxi-skirt (which didn't turn out quite as I intended), plus two elbow length t-shirts with slight batwing sleeves (which were very successful!). All three pieces were self drafted, and I'll show them in detail shortly once I've taken some photos. In the meantime, here's a rather unflattering photo of two of the pieces in front of the Blue Mosque.

Well, this has got a bit long, so I'll save the things about London for another post. I'll leave you with a photo of one of the many well-loved cats in İstanbul...


  1. Looks like you had a lovely visit! I found the food in Istanbul delicious, too (though quite expensive by American standards, even major East Coast city American standards).

  2. Thank you and good calligraphy tiles shown.Datuk Badaruddin