Head to Toe – An Incidental Collection

Garments from Turkey and Central Asia

My preparations for an upcoming presentation to the New Calgary Rug and Textile Club are now  underway.  On Saturday, January 14th from 2 to 4 pm at the new Taylor Digital Library at the University of Calgary I will show and speak about a group of garments which I have collected over the years in Istanbul.  These pieces were acquired one by one as I pursued my primary business of purchasing antique carpets and textiles for various clients.  If you are local and want to come along there is a nominal fee of $5 to attend or better still purchase a membership to the club and enjoy future presentations and lectures($25 for single membership or $50 for a couple).  I am in the midst of the process of sorting out what to include, what to exclude, which format to use, and a seemingly myriad of small decisions as I do the ‘mental sort’ of all the details that exist in my head and need to be corralled to create a degree of order.

Detail on a silk brocade sleeve - with silk embroidery and a fine wool band

Rather than focus on carpets I have chosen to examine a group of Central Asian and Turkish garments that I have collected over the years – I regard this as my INCIDENTAL COLLECTION.  Early on in my working career in Istanbul I had a formative conversation
with Seref Ozen of Cocoon.  Seref’s statement to me was ” Catherine, you need to decide are you a dealer OR are you a collector?”  The reason for the need for an answer to these questions was that if I was to build a personal collection, while selling to other collectors, the circumstances would dictate either I would have a very mediocre collection of rugs and textiles that I couldn’t sell or in fact I would have an excellent collection but disgruntled clients who were only being offered the dregs of what was on the market.  I took Seref’s direction to heart and have worked as a dealer BUT….. there is still that collecting gene which lives within me.  Ingrained in my being is a collecting compulsion.  I have noted over the years that some people have this trait and some don’t.  I do!

Not at a highly conscious level but almost by mistake over the years, I have started to buy and collect garments.  I didn’t have any clients who were dedicated collectors of antique clothing so I felt the freedom to pick up and squirrel away bits and bobs of clothing.  In the same way that a closet may fill up with our purchases as we build a wardrobe, my ‘closet’ of clothing and related items has slowly (and almost mysteriously) grown into what I view as an ‘Incidental Collection’.  While I have been working shopping for carpets or textiles for various residences or collections, almost as an afterthought, in various carpet shops, ateliers and bazaars in the corners of rooms there have been a pair of hand knit socks hanging on a nail, a small cap tacked on the wall, or a chapan slung over the back of a chair. If these pieces call out to me in a persuasive enough way, before I know it money changes hands and there is an intriguing piece that has come from someone else’s back into my possession.

Varied garments; paranja; ikat shalvar; small bag; shalvar

On one level I suppose it goes without saying that there is something amazingly personal about clothing.  For me handmade clothing is particularly personal  especially if it bears decorative details of traditional design, embroidery or regional handwork.  Often because of the small scale of the pieces the workmanship is exquisitely executed.  Years ago when my children were little I would sew for them and also for myself.  I constructed many garments and know the sense of satisfaction and pride that goes into great construction of a functional, aesthetically pleasing piece of clothing.  I  transfer this knowledge and pleasure to the pieces I acquired .  I cannot help looking at the pieces and thinking ‘well done’!  Colour, design, technique and workmanship often combine to produce stunning garments that even with day to day wear over the years still maintain their original well conceived and beautifully executed presence.

For a lifetime I have avoided public speaking but my level of engagement with this subject is allowing me to jump over the hurdle of self and ego and share this part of my life that I am passionate about. Wish me luck as I dive into the waters that I have studiously avoided. I’ll let you know how it goes. If you have read other posts of mine on this ‘newish’ blog you may have insight into the wealth of opportunity in terms of education, travel, relationship, culture, business and beauty that has come my way.  I am truly thankful for the Turkish connection and all that I have received in that arena. Glad too, that yet again I am being pushed out of my comfort zone into that place where life becomes exciting.

How about posting a comment about your emotional/aesthetic attachment to a favorite piece of clothing? One that comes to mind for me was a well worn (tatty) English duffle coat that my Mother sold at a jumble sale without my permission. I still miss that coat!



One Response

  1. marilyn says:

    Yes an amazing life for an amazing woman; safe travels my friend!

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