This time, our Notes from the Road article was contributed by Figen Cakir (pronounced: fhee-ghin cha-khir) – owner & designer, The Knit Box, and permanent resident of Turkey. Have I piqued your curiosity? Read on...
I have an English father and a Turkish mother, and I grew up in London. However, I had always been familiar, and a little in love, with Turkey while I was growing up. It was only natural to me that I would meet somebody here and marry, although I didn’t actually think I would live here permanently. As it turned out, when I married 16 years ago, my husband’s job made it mandatory for us to live in Turkey.
I started knitting when I was around 5 years old. Turkish women are taught all kinds of handicrafts from an early age so it seemed natural that my maternal grandmother would teach me both crochet and knitting during my summer holidays with her. Those experiences eventually led to a degree in design from London University of Arts.
Turkish women – whether old or young, homemaker or banker – craft a lot, and seeing them made me yearn to pick up my needles once again. I scouted out the local yarn shops and suppliers, which led to a whole new discovery of natural Turkish fibers and local people. I was simply devastated when I saw that yarn such as the sought after – and expensive - mohair and angora were rarely cultivated as a source of income in the villages. Both the angora rabbits and the goats originate from Anatolia, having migrated over with the first nomadic Turks thousands of years ago from Tibet and similar regions. Hence the name angora – which, as Angora, is the original name of the capital city Ankara. The animals are now bred all over the world, with the first rabbits taken over to France by ship a couple of centuries ago.
When we relocated to the province of Kocaeli, I discovered a large family who worked in textiles on a small, local scale. They had a small yarn supplies store, but the general preference of the public being synthetic yarns for its reasonable price and durability, the natural yarn they had was ignored and literally gathering dust in a lonely corner. I was overjoyed when I stumbled across the yarn and found that they had spun up these natural yarns once but it wasn’t getting sold! This was a godsend for me as I was having difficulty communicating my needs to villagers who produced these fibers.
I now work with this large and jovial family all of the time for the production and acquisition of my natural mohair and merino yarns and hope this will help them grow their business, boost the demand for Turkish mohair and merino and at the same time set an example for others in Turkey to cultivate these natural sources for yarn.
Please visit Figen's gorgeous website, The Knit Box, where you can find natural Turkish yarn, handmade ceramic buttons using the traditional techniques of Iznik, knitting needles painted by local women artisans using a traditional Turkish art technique, and patterns, amongst many other fiber finds.
You can also visit her blog and etsy shop. Note that all items in the shop belong to the women in the community and they earn back 80% of all sales.
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