Wavy tiger stripes and leopard dots speaking to courage and strength? Or glowing pearls and jewels from Tibetan Buddhism? Drifting clouds, you could say, or are they rivers, these undulating waves? No scholar knows for sure, except that this textile motif ended up in the panoply of Ottoman design by the 16th century and is called Çintamani, made glorious by sultans and preserved on silk caftans in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.
What I know is that they are one of my favorite motifs of all time and I call them Lips.
On my second morning in Istanbul, I join Yildiz for coffee. Yildiz tells me she is working with women in Soma, Turkey, where, in 2014, a mine exploded, killing 300 men. 300 widows with 432 children remain without work or income. Another 2800 miners lost their jobs when the rest of the mines in the area were closed soon after. No insurance payment or government action has followed.
They have no work. The farmland has been ruined by the mines. Women know only the craft of their hands - they can do anything, she says. Yildiz looks at me until I understand. And then she quietly asks me if Ibu would design for these women.
Of course, my heart is already at Yes. I look down at the banquette where Yildiz is sitting across from me and at that moment notice a pile of cushions. I smile to see The Lips. Can they embroider these? I ask, tracing my fingers over the ancient motif Turkey does best.
When I brought The Lips back to the Ibu studio, we decided that they should go red and bold on a cocktail napkin - just where a gentlewoman might touch the crumbs from her lips. And silver ones with the circles that are looking mightily like a mustache. Hers and His, perhaps?
We didn't stop at napkins. Yildiz joined me and companions for the day, navigating the Grand Bazaar to find her favorite fabric shop where we chose stripes for a cosmetic bag. Soma women know how to create the ancient Oya, fun Turkish lace which speaks a silent language among women. Daffodils are made and worn on a breezy scarf when a young gal falls in love; wild roses if her man is off at war; and spicy chili peppers if things are spicy hot in bed! Had to have some of those chili peppers to garnish our cosmetic bag, where you might slip a tube of red for your lips.
You'll have to wait until spring to see the rest we came up with for the women in Soma. For now, we have the spiciest little gifts . . . chili peppers and Lips for your next hostess gifts or a friend's birthday.
I find the whole thing Kismet. The presence of Yildiz, the women of Soma, the pillows right under my eyes, the Lips I've loved. Destiny, Fate, Fortune . . . kismet's just an old Turkish word for how I live, following clues over coffee to find the path that belongs to me.
Kiss me, Kismet . . . and will you also kiss the lives of these women in Soma? I'm imagining the strength of a tiger growing with every stitch of those wavy stripes. A destiny blooming with hope and good work and many days yet to press their lips upon their children's cheeks. I'm imaging their destiny wrapped inextricably with mine and yours . . . and a world-wide tribe of women lifting them up.
All the Best,
Susan Hull Walker
Click on the picture below to see the brief video about these women of Soma and their work: