TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Prayer Rugs, Kilims & Suzanis, A Few of My Favorite Things by Catherine Salter Bayar

When I was a very young girl, my mom took my brother and me to the movie theater to see “The Sound of Music”. We loved it so much that we left the theater, drove over to pick my dad up from work, and went right back to see it a second time. The best part of the story was Julie Andrews cheering up unhappy children by singing, “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…” I learned then that remembering the little things I most loved was a great way to lift my spirits out of the doldrums. Perhaps that’s why I collect vintage textiles – they remind me of the best things in life.

Turkish Prayer Rug

Like this small prayer rug, probably woven by a girl not a lot older than I was when I saw that movie. Turkish village girls would start learning to weave practically as soon as they could walk and talk, so that by the time they were old enough to marry, their dowries would be complete.

Prayer Rug Tree of Life Medallion

Prayer rugs were not only good training for larger carpets; they were something every person in the home would need for their prayers five times a day. This central medallion is full of Tree of Life symbolism, to remind those who saw it to appreciate their connectedness to all those relatives in the village who nurtured their roots in life.

Hearts, floral vines and zigzags of fresh water were other reminders, along with the waxing and waning moons over the mountains as a sign of how fast time flies.

Long Kurdish Kilim Runner

Near Mount Ararat in Eastern Anatolia, Kurdish tribes would weave pairs of animals into their colorful wool kilims to recall the story of how Noah was commanded by God to collect two of every animal on the earth and take them along in the Ark.

Animals Depicted in the Kilim,
Important in the Weaver's Life

Chickens and ducks must have been an important part of this weaver’s daily life, though all sorts of farm animals are depicted here.

Woven Flowers, Representing Beauty and Abundance

And of course, flowers were almost always woven in, as a sign of appreciation for abundance and beauty. But my favorites are suzanis, especially this one:

40 Yr Old Suzani

Embroidered in Central Asia more than 40 years ago, it is a veritable Garden of Eden. Comprised entirely of flowers, leaves and tendrils in hot pinks, oranges and pungent greens, just looking at it makes me smile.

The embroiderer who drew the pattern was ambitious in the amount of detail she added. She and the friends who must have helped her did not complete stitching all the curling bits and pieces, so ink marks are still evident.

Ink marks still evident on this Suzani from the 1960's.

What fiber artist can’t relate to starting such a large project and never getting it all done?

I marvel that the backs of suzanis look nearly as good as the fronts:

The backs of Suzani embroideries are almost as solid as the fronts.

The edges are bound in a contrasting color cotton and machine stitched, but in controlled wavy patterns that would not be so easy to do.

The embroiderers did manage to stitch outlines around the border leaves. My favorite details are the chain stitched bands that enclose the border, so precisely executed they look knitted.

Scorch marks from an iron add history and character to this suzani.

Alas, someone once took a too-hot iron to the heavy sateen that I think is silk, though it may well be cotton…I’ve never snipped a piece to burn and find out. Much of the pale background is covered with scorch marks, and there are occasional stains that show that I’m not the first woman to love this suzani. Though disparaged in today’s world in which everything and everyone must be without flaw, to me, this suzani’s imperfections give it an extra layer of character on top of the beautiful embroidery. Like my favorite things in life, I’ll take the bitter with the sweet.

These three treasures can be found in my Etsy shop, along with lots of other vintage fiber art finds. Click on their names to visit the listing:

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. A regular contributor of this blog, Catherine is also a member of our Fiber Focus group. She is currently working on a book on Turkish textiles. Visit Catherine and Abit at www.bazaarbayar.com or www.bazaarbayar.etsy.com.

Visit us: Ataturk Mahallesi, Siegburg Caddesi, 3 Selcuk 35920 Izmir Turkey
Phone: 90.232.892.6508



  1. Great article, love the pictures. Thinking about prayer rugs reminds me of the last time I was in Turkey; we were visiting the medrese and mosque at Seyitgazi when we found an old prayer rug that the builders had used to clean their tools, after some negotiation with the curator he let us to take it for 30 YTL. We cleaned it up perfectly and it is a fantastic example of a handmade prayer rug, not sure about the exact age or value but the beauty of the rug itself surpasses all expectations of what we found lying on the floor covered in plaster.


“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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