Speaking Volumes With Thread

In the articles section of Valley Fiber Life, I ran across some information about oya, a Turkish form of needle lace, which is a form of looping. I love oya. Years ago in a used book store years I bought a copy of In Celebration of the Curious Mind: A Festschrift to Honor Anne Blinks.It contains a wonderful essay on oya by Pat Hickman. As my students stitch, I enjoy reading them passages like this one, where she describes how oya could be used to communicate what is difficult to express in words alone.

Soon after marriage, a new bride was expected to send a gift of a scarf with oya edging to her mother-in-law. If all was going well, she sent one with meadow flowers — happily, evenly spaced between light and dark leaves. If the marriage was not working, a scarf with dark green finger-like projections, called “tombstones,” was sent as the gift…If a wife and her husband were not getting along she would wear a head scarf with small red peppers hanging from it until their argument had passed.

The author of the article at Valley Fiber Life is Figen Kakir, a “Brit chick knitting in Turkey” who also blogs at The Knit Box. From Figen I learned that
Phases in the work are called root oya, rock oya and main oya.


Oya lace has always had a story or message to communicate – love, sadness, yearning, mourning, joy. Originally made to trim headscarves, bed linen, towels and bridal veils, the designs have been named after flowers (lilies, hyacinths and violets the most popular), nature and legends (such as Mejnun’s nest).

I’m intrigued. Does anyone know the story of Mejnun’s nest?

What do you say with your needlework that you would find difficult to express in words alone?

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Donna Kallner

fiber artist, teacher and explorer, inspired by ancient fiber techniques and all the ways contemporary fiber artists give old ideas a new spin

4 thoughts on “Speaking Volumes With Thread”

  1. Hi Donna!

    I’m so pleased that you enjoyed the article!

    You know, it’s such a shame, but there’s hardly any detailed references to be found for the stories behind oya and it’s difficult to find photographic examples. Everything learned is mostly passed down over the generations by word of mouth.

    ‘Mejnun’s nest’ is interesting, and probably deserves a whole article itself! I’ve yet to see an actual example of the oya but the story might be this; Mejnun & Leyla are the ill-fated lovers in a very well-known Persian legend. It’s said that Romeo and Juliet was actually based on this ancient tale.
    It’s a very lengthy, epic story with variations all over Asia so I will just refer to the part about the ‘nest’. Apparently the hero was called Kays but is popularly known as Mejnun, (which means ‘mad’ in Arabic) and when he was lost in the desert pining for his lost Leyla he was maddened with grief and cared for nothing. So much that he did not even notice or care that birds made nests in his hair and beard! It sounds funny, but in the actual literary text it’s very poignant.


    There’s so much to discover but all so hard to find!


  2. Thank you, Figen, for more of the story. Now I have a picture of Mejnun’s nest dancing in my head and can almost see it dancing on a headscarf!

  3. Can one ever say enough about oya? I am in love. Though I don’t think I could ever attempt it myself. I am enchanted by the stories of what each piece of oya represents and find it both a beautiful and sad language of girls who may not have been allowed to express themselves any other way.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Tara. Isn’t it amazing how women have been able to use simple resources to add beauty to the world. One of the things I love about oya is how it shows the observation skills of the makers. No pattern, no graph or chart — look at the flower. So often the shortcuts we take rob us both the observation and the practice of seeing. Makes me appreciate the oya even more.

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