26 March 2024 -

Report: Craft-based design and the durability of hand craft - oya lace

In this post, Dr Duygu Atalay Onur (HEA Fellow) and Merve Aydin (PhD candidate) report on their research into oya lace and craft-based design which was supported by the DHS EDI Strategic Research Grant.


We would like to thank the Design History Society for supporting our research. Thanks to the support of the Design History Society's EDI Strategic Research Grant, we had the opportunity of presenting our research at the Design and Transience Conference held in Izmir in 2022. This grant and paper presented at the conference formed the basis for a research paper and an e-book which is going to be published in 2024.

Presenting at the 2022 DHS annual conference in Izmir, Turkey

Our research is about craft-based design and aims to enhance the durability of hand craft of oya with the help of design. The technique of oya lace, produced with the help of tools such as a needle, crochet needle and shuttle, and silk threads has a particular place in Turkish vernacular textile manufacture. It’s a historically valuable artefact of syncretic Anatolian culture. In Gonen, where the research project was done, one can find the most delicate examples of this valuable craft technique. Current research shows that it might be an early form of European lace that became widespread in the 16th century. And it is assumed that it flourished in Anatolia and travelled from Anatolia to Greece and Italy in the 12th century (Onuk, 1981).

Traditionally oya lace is used in home textiles, head scarfs and as trimmings of garments. Traditionally it is not a commodity. It is used by its creator. However, within the last 15-20 years we witnessed its process of commoditization. There has been a transition from craft to design. The purpose of contemporary oya lace production is a bit different than its traditional production. First of all it is produced not only in homes but in places like women’s cooperatives. Sold in shops and used generally in accessories and jewellery making.

One of the major threats is that the number of artisans is decreasing and its future is in danger. However it actually comprises a great potential to be used in creative industries because of its unique properties.

In our research we tried to find answers to these questions.

  • Can the stimulation of collective production of designers and artisans enhance the durability of oya in the post-industrial age that has been dominated by the notion of transience?
  • How can integration of design and craftsmanship support womanly production in geographies belong to the third world?

We organized a design workshop in May in Gönen which is a small town famous with oya production. Nine fashion design students from Beykent University and nearly forty women artisans were brought together in this workshop. Prior to the workshop there has been talks and local women, local government paid intense interest in these seminars.

The workshop was planned to have an impact on both parties:

On women: we wanted them to develop a better understanding of colour theories, customer profiles and the importance of fashion trends.
On students:
we wanted them to learn facilitating the design process and raise their awareness on this particular craft technique.

It took one and a half days and each session started with a presentation including theoretical explanation. Also, Public Education Centre instructors observed the workshop.

On the first day we worked together on colour harmonies. Then, to generate a clearer understanding of urban womens desires we gave them boards of different customer profiles. On the next day they were given fashion trend boards form a professional trend firm Fashion Snoops. Finally we provided them card decks to create their own inspirational boards and material packs to be used in the design process.

There was also an emphasis on sustainable design strategies even though it wasn’t the main focus. We’ve introduced three sustainable design strategies and they started working together.

The workshop

At the end of the day women and students created 26 accessories and later we did a fashion shoot at our university.

Oya fashion shoot

During the workshop we realised that the Public Education Centre teachers generate a bridge between academia and local women so we formed a WhatsApp group together. We sent them further information on free digital trend information and colour harmonies.

Now they are asking for another workshop and after the impact of our workshop the mayor of Gönen is now working on opening a shop to support local oya producers. Although we didn’t ask our students to learn how to crochet oya, it happened naturally. One of our students tried to learn how to do it and a woman artisan filmed her.

In developing countries such as Turkey gaining a design identity through craft production is promising because there are many craft techniques which are peculiar to Turkey. Women focused enterprise initiatives focusing on handmade production is quite valuable for developing countries because they contribute to women employment and support design culture.

  • In the course of the workshop, the goal of the participants to experiment with new colours and materials and learn to make new products was achieved.
  • An open, participatory learning environment was created and it showed us that when a participatory environment is created new ideas flourish and learning takes place naturally.

This experience showed that as researchers we should work more on this area and generate networks with local teachers and crafters to sustain the existence of handcraft of oya. And document its transition from craft culture to design culture.


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