This piece of garment was purchased by Dr. Reem Tariq El Mutwalli as a set of ensembles from Jade Bréval, an independent collector from France in 2018 to add to and enhance The Zay Initiative collection.
Ms Jade Bréval who had travelled for over 15 years in and around Türkiye had collected items such as this from shops and individuals in small villages and towns that she visited.
This is a woven woollen apron (önlük) for women in purple base and colourful embroidered floral embellishment.
The field of the apron is a woven woollen fabric in purple. The hems of the apron are embellished with (Blanket_stitch) style embroidered trimming to prevent fraying from the edges with bright pink woollen threads. It has two loops on the top corners for the fastening ribbons. It also has an added layer of woollen pompoms in pink and green attached as trimming.
The field of the apron is embellished with beige, pink and green wool creating repeats of floral motifs in simple (Satin_stitch) style embroidery. A thick woven woollen ribbon in yellow, black and red with hanging tassels constructed of horsehair pompoms and blue plastic beads is looped around the eyelets in the corner.
The önlük is constructed of two panels of fabric mirroring each other in design that has been stitched vertically and the seam is embellished with (Thorn_stitch) style and a layer of woollen pompoms attached down the middle.
A border near the fall hem displays a horizontal panel with diagonal rows of lines in blue, beige, pink and green woollen threads. The hemline of the fall has a series of fringes made of braided pink woollen threads sewn to it.
Just like the rest of the pieces in the ensemble, this önlük is similar to contemporary Balkan examples, especially the Romanian apron (Fota). Aprons such as these perhaps became common throughout the Ottoman Empire and particularly widespread in the north-western provinces, such as the Marmara region in present-day Türkiye, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries because of its sizeable Balkan population.
Interestingly, this kind of embroidered önlük also closely resembles the traditional Iraqi shoulder mantels (Charuga) (ZI2022.500999.7 IRAQ and ZI2022.500999.15 IRAQ) in its embellishment and design elements. Additionally, while the word Fota which is derived from a classical Persian word for bath towel (Futa) means an apron, a similar sounding word in Arabic (Futah) also derived from the same classical Persian word denotes any cloth that covers the head and the upper body.
At its peak, the Ottoman Empire spanned three continents and served as the crossroads between the East and the West – the Fertile Crescent, the Levant, Eastern Europe including the Balkans till the southern edge of the Great Hungarian Plain, Northern Africa and Eastern Mediterranean.
After the conquest of the Arab world in c. 1516-1517 CE its control over the Middle East lasted for four centuries until the early 20th century with the onset of WW I and the Arab Revolt. These four hundred years witnessed many instances of mutual Arab and Ottoman cultural influences and exchanges. Through areas such as social life and art – decorative and performing –we come across several instances of Arab and Turkish culture blending together through the centuries.
Just as European fashion was often inspired by the French court this socio-cultural blending between Ottoman Turkey and the Middle East was clearly reflected in its fashion and material culture.
Thus, while emulating Ottoman fashion as the mark of class in the Arab world was one side of the puzzle adapting Eastern European fashion particularly Balkan as part of mainstream couture culture because of the sizable Balkan population within the Empire was another. Therefore, it is not surprising to find several articles of clothing and their terms similar between the two cultures.
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