• James E Aarons DVM

Oya, Turkish Lace


Oya, Turkish Lace that conveys the lady’s thoughts

While staying in a Lebanese home Katie is introduced to the specific language of the embroidered cloth referred to as Oya.

Ancient needlework from Turkey and Lebanon shows everyone how the wearer is feeling.

Katie helped Nouhad carry cups of tea into the living room. The shared womanly duties eased Nouhad's discomfort; Katie noticed she was much more relaxed when they returned to the kitchen. Nouhad sat down slowly at the table, exhaling loudly as she settled in.

“Sit down, please.” She gestured to Katie.

She played with a garment she spread on the table, counting the small objects dangling along the cloth’s edge, pausing briefly to let her fingers feel each one. Looking closely, Katie saw they were exquisitely embroidered, tiny objects sewn along the scarf’s entire fringe.

Nouhad noticed her interest. “This is oya, the traditional edging on our scarves. You might know it as Turkish Lace. The oya on a scarf reflects the mood of the person wearing it. The different flower designs show my family and my friends my mood. We don't have to discuss these things in front of strangers because my scarf tells all how I feel.”

“What do you mean, how does it work, Nouhad?”

“When you first came in I wore that scarf.” She pointed to a bold colored scarf hanging on a rack on the wall. “Its oya is a flower called pepper spice, making this scarf an expression of anger toward Marzan.”

“Why were you angry at him?”

“For inviting strangers inside.”

“Well you changed your mind fairly quickly I see. This one doesn’t look like a spicy pepper.”

“I am a grandmother, therefore I use tiny wild flowers when I am pleased. It symbolizes the return of dust to dust.”

“This is a beautiful custom. What do new brides wear?”

“Newlyweds wear oya of roses. Engaged ladies wear oya of pink hyacinths and almond blossoms.”

“This seems quite involved.”

“Yes, it is. We wear purple hyacinth oya when we are first in love. Plum blossoms are worn by brides, newlyweds wear roses, and a middle aged woman reaching forty years old wears oya showing bent tulips.”

“How wonderful.”

“The oya is a badge, like a wedding ring, but it is more. It lets others know your social status and how you feel.”

“So, red peppers show displeasure?”

“Just red spice peppers. Here, look.” She rose to pull the angry scarf off the hook.

“Follow me, I have more inside.”

Katie followed her into the main bedroom and watched as the older woman rummaged through a trunk.

“This scarf is also red, but the peppers are rounder. It is a red pepper, not a spice pepper. The spice pepper tells everyone I am unhappy, but this red pepper oya says Marzan and I have a spicy relationship. Please take this one as a gift, to spice up your two week old marriage.”

“This is so beautiful, thank you. I am an American, Navajo Indian. We weave rug patterns having meaning, these patterns tell our family history. I wish I had one to give to you.”

Nouhad pulled another shawl out. “This is my rose oya I wore when I was newlywed. I wish to give it to you as well.”

“I can’t take your wedding scarf, Nouhad!”

“I did not marry in this one, I have others. It is not so special as you worry, although it is important to me, and is a thing I wish to share with you. We usually give it to our daughters. But Amina, my only daughter, was killed in Beirut last spring. I have no one to give it to now.”

“Oh, I am so sorry about your daughter and I’m flattered Nouhad, thank you… but why me? Surely you have nieces who would cherish this.”

“We have many of these scarves, and my nieces have mothers whose duty it is to provide for them. I would like you to have this, Katie, as a memory of our meeting. It is good to give spiciness to a younger woman who can still taste spice.”

Katie smiled gratefully and accepted the present. She was surprised how soft it was and spent a long time admiring the beauty of the tiny flowers.

Nouhad settled herself in her chair and poured a cup of tea for Katie.

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Oya, Turkish Lace, Chapter 16