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The History of Antep İşi Embroidery

Antep işi is a type of arduous embroidery, or drawn thread work, which uses a variety of different techniques. The threads of the embroidery fabric must be able to be drawn, counted and cut to produce design motifs, the edges of which are then embellished with susma (a kind of wrapping stitch). Silk thread is used for the stitching on a variety of fabrics such as silk, crepe, calico, linen or marquisette.
Antep işi embroidery began in rural areas as a way to embellish the clothes of young brides and grooms. Young girls would embroider the neckline on their nightwear, head scarves (known as terlik), the hems of skirts and dresses, and the jacket pockets and handkerchiefs of their grooms. This tradition eventually spread to the decoration of various tablecloths and covers.

It is said that Antep işi embroidery was first used in villages to decorate the clothes of young brides and grooms. There is a story which illustrates this:
In the 1850s, in the villages of Gaziantep, young brides-to-be would embroider a special jacket for their grooms, to be worn during the first days of marriage and for special ceremonies and celebrations. This sad story involves one of these special long wedding jackets. In the village of Tılfar, a young girl called Hamide was engaged to her cousin Hasan. For her trousseau, Hamide was embroidering the skirt and the sleeves of her groom’s hand woven thick cotton jacket, and the hem of the wedding trousers, using Antep işi ajur stitching, susma, and muşabak (latticework). Hamide was trying to complete her work in time for the wedding, but before she could do so, Hasan was conscripted to the 1892 Yemen War. At that time, soldiers served for 10-15 years and the large majority of those who were sent to Yemen never returned. Hasan was among those who lost their lives at war.
When Hamide received the news of the death of her fiancé, she left the work on his jacket unfinished and kept it in her trousseau chest as a memory of her pain and sorrow. She kept the jacket there until she died, and her dying wish was that it should never be sold. To this day, the jacket remains protected in the Tılfarlıoğlu family.

There is another Antep işi story involving the commercial selling of the embroidery work abroad. Directors of the American Hospital in Gaziantep decided to try to boost hospital funds by opening a business selling the local embroidery work abroad. In those days, the idea of young girls presenting the fruits of their labour to those outside the family was not encouraged, and so at first the hospital project was not very successful. Later, with the incentive that hospital fees would not be taken from those patients who could teach others the embroidery skills, production began to increase. However, these embroiderers did not take as much care with the commercial pieces as they did with their own trousseau items, and as a result the local population did not regard this hospital work very highly, referring to it as Hastane İşi (Hospital Embroidery).
As with the hospital story, some Antep people opened workshops known as İş Evi (Work Houses), producing embroidered European items such as tablecloths and napkins, which were then sold abroad. It is also known that some Armenians who emigrated from Antep to Europe and America still continue to produce and sell Antep işi embroidery work.

In the past, in Gaziantep and the surrounding villages, the whole population produced Antep işi embroidery, attracting international attention. Students from the Hacı Muzaffer Bakbak High School for Girls achieved great success by winning a gold medal at the “36th International Handicrafts Fair” held in Munich in March 1984. As the reputation of Antep işi embroidery spread, it was introduced into the curriculum of many vocational high schools throughout the country, not just in Gaziantep.

The contents of this publication, which has been funded through the 2010 Economic Development Financial Support Programme of the Silk Road Development Agency, does not represent the views of the Silk Road Development Agency and/or the Ministry of Development. The Gaziantep Chamber of Commerce is the sole bearer of responsibility for the contents.