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Quilting in Turkey

(Editor's Note, December 2004: This article was first published in April 1999. Gunsu Gungor's studio continues to thrive and her son Cemre is nearly grown. She continues to exhibit her quilts around the world, teach, and champion the cause of quilting in Turkey.)

I'm continually surprised and pleased by the e-mail I get from enthusiastic quilters in what might seem unlikely places. I received one such message on Christmas day last year from Gunsu Gungor in Ankara, Turkey, who asked me to visit her website (http://www.gcpatchwork.com). She proudly told me that her site had been designed and built by her 12-year-old son, Cemre.

It turned out that her site was not just a personal quilt page featuring her own work, but a business site for GC Patchwork Studio, which Gunsu owns and operates in downtown Ankara.

"I'm a business administration graduate of Bosphorous University in Istanbul," Gunsu says. "I moved to Ankara, which is the capital city of Turkey, after I got married in 1983. I learned the basics of patchwork at that time from friends. My hobby made me the patchwork teacher of the Turkish American Association in 1991, and in 1995 I formed my own studio. GC Patchwork Studio is situated at the center of Ankara and I have around 100 students yearly. My students come to the studio once every week for two hours. They attend here for three-month periods and learn different techniques. Some of my students attend my classes for four or five years."

Besides being a center for quilting education, the studio is a vital nerve center for quilters in Turkey. Gunsu organizes a show of the work of studio members' work every year which has high visibility in Turkey, including participation by the Minister of Culture Istemihan Talay, who wrote the introduction to the show's catalogue. In it he said, "Patchwork, which is made by joining the geometrical shapes traditionally, has been introduced in this catalogue with the modern interpretation of Gunsu Gungor Group. This catalogue, which sets forth a different dimension of cultural heritage . . . shall be a cultural torch that will enlighten the future generations." The show is always covered by local newspapers and television.

Beyond their own local show, the group also participates in international quilt exhibitions. "Last year we applied and were chosen to represent our country at Quilt Show VI at Innsbruck," Gunsu says. "Two quilts and three vests (one belongs to me) were chosen. . . ." Encouraged by their success, Gunsu's group decided to compete in the American Quilters' Society annual show in Paducah at the end of April. Gunsu wrote me recently: "We are pleased to inform you that we will be participating in the American Quilters' Society 15th Show and Contest in Paducah next month. Two of my students and myself will take part in the AQS/Hobbs Bonded Fibers Fashion Show and two quilts from my students will be exhibited at the quilt show. We will be in Paducah in April."

Turkey's rich textile heritage is well-known around the world, but not so well-recognized is that patchwork quilts are a big part of it. In fact some Turkish quilt traditions are remarkably similar to other parts of the world: "Patchwork was in the past made in my country because of necessity," Gunsu says. "The people used to do these at the villages, for example 40 patches. When a girl was preparing for marriage she took 40 pieces of cloth from 40 happily married couples and made a quilt for herself wishing that she will be happily married. At old times they used to make bed covers, praying mats (if they are not in a mosque people pray to God on special mats), bundles, etc., using these techniques. When making these the techniques they used resembled the modern techniques we use these days."

Gunsu owns one such prayer mat made by her grandmother nearly a hundred years ago, and displays it on the wall in her studio. "The puffs were filled with 100 percent cotton that she grew, and the thread used was also made by her from the cocoons she had," Gunsu said.

As in most other countries with a quilting tradition, there are local organizations of quilters. Besides Gunsu's studio, there is an organization for quilters in Istanbul. A number of Gunsu's students teach quilting around the country as well. In spite of this, there is not the wide availability of some quilting supplies that can be found elsewhere. Gunsu is trying to remedy that: "We import and sell some patchwork supplies ourselves because there are no shops round here selling these."

If the show catalogue is any indication, Turkish quilters are among the most sophisticated in the world. Techniques range from Hawaiian to Celtic knotwork to crazy quilting, along with many variations on traditional patchwork. Pictorial, paper-pieced, and contemporary quilts are also prominent, and some of the wearables are truly stunning.

Among their other sophistications, Turkish quilters are part of a highly wired culture. "The Internet is widespread in Turkey," Gunsu says. "It's used at the houses and businesses. Most of the companies have web pages and most of the kids start learning about these at school at early ages. As you know my web page is created by my 11-year-old son. . . the computer technology is so huge everything that you hear in the States is here in a couple of days."

Beyond quilting as a hobby and as a business, Gunsu is interested in another aspect of the craft, its spiritual and psychological value. This is clear from the definition of patchwork which is posted at her site:

"Patchwork is a combination of pieces of fabrics which are cut according to the colour harmony and the design planned before.

"Although forms vary depending on the countries and cultures, it is a way to express one's own self to the world with the help of different fabrics. For us, patchwork is a therapy through art. It teaches to get the utmost pleasure of the process without aiming the results, making the person patient, tolerant and more adaptable both to herself and others."



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