Blog 59 30/10/2017 Ottoman Embroidery: The Barber’s Apron

Posted in on 28 October, 2017 in News

Ottoman Embroidery: The Barber’s Apron

Ceremony and ritual were extremely important in Ottoman life and can be divided into two areas. The first were ceremonies associated with religious observances such as Ramadan culminating with the Feast of Bayram, and military ceremonies which displayed the Empire’s power and might. The second category includes the many rituals associated with daily life. For all of these occasions, putting on a show was critical to one’s standing and respect in the community. Naturally, the Sultan – Allah’s shadow on earth – was, like royalty everywhere, the trendsetter when it came to this and everyone else did their best to emulate his ways in whatever capacity they could.

The contents of a bride’s wedding trousseau contained some of the finest pieces of textiles made and one of these was the barber’s apron. It has to be said here that barbers were highly esteemed and even had their own guild. Early miniatures portray processions of barbers accompanied by soldiers on horseback wielding glinting scimitars; so great was their standing in the community.

Just prior to the wedding, the bride would send a gift to the groom consisting of a shaving apron, a matching towel and a shaving bowl. The towel was a small, rectangular shape that would be placed around the neck. On the day that the bride was due to depart for the groom’s house, the shaving ceremony would take place at the groom’s house in the company of his friends and he would be shaved with his future bride’s gifts. Because it would be viewed by close friends, the shaving apron was one of the most beautiful pieces of all embroidered textiles. Remarkably, quite a few of these pieces survive and are in excellent condition.



The apron took the shape of a large rectangle with a circular hole cut out at the neck. The size was generally around 1.65cms x 95cms but could be up to 2mtres x 1mtre. They were usually made of linen or silk, although fine woollen examples survive, and the embroidery consisted of scattered, repeating motifs which followed the fashions of the day. An embroidered border surrounds all sides and is quite simple in design which contrasts with the exquisite work in the broad border around the neck and the back opening of the apron. The embroidery was generally made in silk thread or metal wrapped silk thread. Occasionally metal stripwork or sequins were used. The main embroidery techniques used were tambour work, wrapped metal strip work, satin stitch, fishbone stitch, and double darning stitch.




“Ottoman Embroideries from the Sadberk Hanim Collection – Skill of the hand, delight of the eye” by Hulya Bilgi and Idil Zanbak.

“Ottoman Embroidery” by Roderick Taylor.



The Embroiderer

The Embroiderer1822: During one of the bloodiest massacres of The Greek War of Independence, a child is born to a woman of legendary beauty in the Byzantine monastery of Nea Moni on the Greek island of Chios. The subsequent decades of bitter struggle between Greeks and Turks simmer to a head when the Greek army invades Turkey in 1919. During this time, Dimitra Lamartine arrives in Smyrna and gains fame and fortune as an embroiderer to the elite of Ottoman society. However it is her grand-daughter Sophia, who takes the business to great heights only to see their world come crashing down with the outbreak of The Balkan Wars, 1912-13. In 1922, Sophia begins a new life in Athens but the memory of a dire prophecy once told to her grandmother about a girl with flaming red hair begins to haunt her with devastating consequences.

1972: Eleni Stephenson is called to the bedside of her dying aunt in Athens. In a story that rips her world apart, Eleni discovers the chilling truth behind her family’s dark past plunging her into the shadowy world of political intrigue, secret societies and espionage where families and friends are torn apart and where a belief in superstition simmers just below the surface.

Set against the mosques and minarets of Asia Minor and the ruins of ancient Athens, The Embroiderer is a gripping saga of love and loss, hope and despair, and of the extraordinary courage of women in the face of adversity.