TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Introducing Catherine Salter Bayar: Our Voice from Turkey

I found Catherine through her Etsy store, Bazaar Bayar. I invited her to write an article for Fiber Focus which led to a spurry of e-mails back and forth. Turns out we have a lot of common ground in our passion for textiles, our marriages to Muslim men, our dreams for our businesses, and a good sense of humor. Catherine is an interior designer and spends part of each year working in California, while her heart remains in Turkey. She has agreed to become our regular voice from Turkey, so this is hopefully the first of many articles for Fiber Focus. Welcome, Catherine!

Blame It on This Carpet…

Okay, I admit it. I've been addicted to textiles, especially the handmade variety, since my childhood in Santa Barbara, a beach town which thrived with artists, Mexican and old Californian artifacts, and a colorful, vibrant lifestyle. Early days of dressing up in layers of embroidered flouncy dresses with flowing mantillas on my head in order to ride a donkey down State Street for the annual Fiesta Parade obviously got me hooked. Perhaps my fixation was compounded by those family summer road trips as well. Memorable visits to Native American settlements in the Southwest where men raised wonderfully wooly sheep (on sand dunes, of all places!) and women wove finely patterned blankets are some of my earliest recollections. I was dazzled by it all, even if their work was targeted at impressionable young tourists like me.

By the time I'd grown up, color, pattern and texture were three elements that I could not live without. I had to play with them daily. To feed my obsession, yet be able to support myself, I became a clothing designer, a job in which I got to dream up garments AND the fabrics or yarns they were made from, then travel around the world to get them manufactured. Sounds more glamorous than it really was, since my dreams always had to be practical and make mass-market money for my bosses. Not the most creative combination, but it was an interesting way to make a living.

Until one trip to Turkey changed my life in 1998. I visited the small Aegean town of Selcuk, home of the last standing column of the 550BC Ancient Wonder Temple of the Greek Goddess Artemis, and her predecessor, the Anatolian Goddess Kybele, pictured above. Anatolia, the western portion of the Asian part of modern Turkey, actually means "full of mothers". In this mystical feminine environment I met, quite by chance, a man who would broaden my already burgeoning textile horizons to include a wealth of carpets, kilims and other delectable Turkish treasures. That was it…this textile junkie had found Nirvana. And yes, not only did I go into the vintage hand woven textiles business with Abit Bayar, the most earnest carpet seller in Turkey, but I married him. We've been passionately treasure hunting our way through life ever since.

That first culprit, pictured at the start of this story, the rug that launched our collection? It's a museum quality single knot carpet from the very early 20th century, woven in the Cappadocian town of Avanos. A town better known for its ceramics than its weaving, but I see a connection to earthenware tones and patterns when I look at this intricate piece. The pile of this 5' x 8' carpet is very evenly worn, yet the pattern is still so well preserved. A well made carpet should have the same intensity of color on the front and on the back, and this one does. We cannot know the woman who knotted this piece about 100 years ago, but it had to be a well-loved part of her home.

Traditionally in Turkey, women do almost all the tasks related to spinning, dyeing and weaving or knotting rugs. Unusually muted in color for a Turkish carpet, Abit and I were entranced by all the symbolism here. A good carpet seller can 'read' a carpet or kilim like I can read a great novel. Abit's been teaching me this ancient language as 'spoken' by the women of his culture, who used these symbols to tell the world what they hoped for in life.

The Tree of Life, the center from which all families spring and the form that holds the generations together (I especially love the small birds!).

A zigzag border represents the running water that all life needs to survive, and the clean heart that a woman hopes she, her husband, and all their children will have.

"Wolves' mouths" - also called "dragons" - to protect the family and keep it from harm. Note that the diamond in the center is added protection, in the form of an 'evil eye'. This symbol of protection is so old in Anatolia that no one really knows how the tradition started, but evil eyes are seen everywhere in modern Turkey even today, though usually in blue.

An intricate series of squares to form checkerboards - five together remind the household of their obligation in Islam to pray five times a day.

A hairbrush, a symbol of vanity! Girls started to learn carpet weaving at a young age so they could make pieces for their dowries. Part of the idea of a dowry was to catch the attention of the best available bachelor (or, in Turkish culture, the eye of that bachelor's mother!). Proclaiming the beauty of the weaver by the weaver herself was not considered immodest, but a tactic to ensure a good future. In fact, the better a woman could weave, the more likely she'd draw wanted attention to herself.

And finally, multitudes of flowers, including Turkey's indigenous tulip, as symbols of the Garden of Eden, to ask for abundance and beauty in life.

By weaving such symbols into a carpet, women were creating ideals of a perfect life. One filled with love, luck, prosperity and every other good thing mentioned above. Today, we visualize our perfect lives in order to make them real. The women of Anatolia have been doing that for millennia. Filling our lives with things of beauty in order to attract more goodness is a very ancient idea, though one I did not fully understand until I found the treasures I was seeking in Selcuk.

I've been kindly invited to post here regularly about carpet shop life and the hand woven textiles and other wonderful handmade art that comes from all around Turkey and beyond to Central Asia. Thanks, Rachel!

Catherine Salter Bayar lives with her husband Abit in Selcuk, near Ephesus, Turkey, where they own a vintage textile shop and a water pipe& wine bar. Visit them at www.bazaarbayar.com or www.bazaarbayar.etsy.com.



  1. HI Catherine

    Yes indeed sounds like we have the same passion and will to follow textile- what a wonderful carpet you have described. I have never yet been to Turkey but would love to get there one day and spend weeks absorbing textiles- oh and the wonderful food!

  2. great first blog catherine! i am looking forward to learning more about turkish textiles from you. since i moved to istanbul 5 years ago i have been *slowly* collecting and feel the tug of an obsession beginning to grow...

  3. Great post, Catherine.
    Our house is full of kilims and I'd love to know the meaning of the symbols on them. Especially how the symbols interact, some within others and so on.
    Catherine Y


“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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