Oya (Turkey)

Example of three-dimensional oya lace, Turkey, late 20th century. Example of three-dimensional oya lace, Turkey, late 20th century. TRC collection.

Oya is a Turkish word referring to various forms of narrow lace trimmings, made and worn throughout the eastern and southern parts of the Mediterranean region, as well as in parts of Armenia. It is particularly associated with Turkey. Oya is often used to decorate garments, especially women’s headscarves and household textiles, such as sheets, table cloths and towels. Modern oya is also used to create jewellery.

There are four basic types of oya, namely (a) needle made oya (Turkish: ığne oyası), (b) crochet oya (T: tıg oyası), (c) tatting  oya (T: mekik oyası) and (d) hairpin oya. The various techniques are often combined and additional items, such as beads, sequins and paillettes are used to create different effects. Crochet, tatting and hairpin lace designs are described as ‘flat’ oya, while needle made lace is generally three-dimensional.

By the twenty-first century, machine-made oya is available for sale, but it is not as popular as the handmade version, which is regarded as being more ‘alive.’ Traditionally silk (for special occasions) and cotton (daily wear) yarns were used to make oya, but by the beginning of the twenty-first century synthetic yarns are widely used. These modern yarns come in a wide variety of colours, which have influenced the appearance of contemporary oya.

Many oya motifs are inspired by nature and include chilli peppers, flowers (chrysanthemums, daisies, roses and tulips), leaves, as well as birds and butterflies. Many oya makers have their own ‘archive’ (samples) in the form of bundles of loose pieces of oya, which include designs waiting to be worked out and finished, as well as variations in colours and materials.

Although oya has been made in Turkey for centuries and is now regarded as being typically Turkish, it is likely that oya, and in particular needle-made oya, is a descendant of Italian embroidered laces, notably Venetian needlepoint lace. For several hundreds of years, from about 1500 onwards, there were close social and mercantile links between Istanbul and Venice and from there with other European and Ottoman cities. It is known that lace was traded during this period.

The ‘flat’ forms of oya have other origins. Crochet, for instance, seems to have been developed in France or Italy in the sixteenth century, but it was not until the early nineteenth century that it became popular and was being made in many countries throughout the world. Hairpin lace was a late eighteenth century development, possibly starting in England. Tatting also appears to have originated in eighteenth century Britain, but it was not until the 1870's that picots (small loops) were introduced, which quickly became a feature of tatting and oya in particular.

It would appear that the ‘flat’ techniques were quickly adapted in the latter half of the nineteenth century throughout the Mediterranean, including Turkey. It is possible that these techniques were transmitted via European pattern books and handwork magazines and books, such as those produced by the French company, DMC. The designs and techniques were then picked up locally and developed into the much wider range of oya that is still being worked in the twenty-first century.


  • AKKENT, M., and G. FRANGER (1987). Das Kopftuch, ein Stückchen Stoff in Geschichte und Gegenwart – Başörtü, geçmişte ve günümüzde bir parça kumaş, Frankfurt am Main.
  • GÜNAY, U. (1986). Costumes historiques des femmes turques, Istanbul.
  • DILLMONT, Th. de (n.d.). Encyclopedia of Needlework, Mulhouse: DMC.
  • EARNSHAW, Pat (1984). A Dictionary of Lace, Aylesbury: Shire Publications Ltd.
  • http://www.turkishculture.org (retrieved 31st March 2016).


Last modified on Friday, 05 May 2017 18:39
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