Handicrafts have been around since man’s earliest days in accordance with the prevailing environmental conditions. The first examples were necessities such as protection or coverings. Handicrafts were later improved and adapted according to environmental conditions, eventually becoming "traditional" and accepted as an art that reflects the artistic sense, feelings and cultural characteristics of a society.
Traditional Turkish handicrafts form a rich mosaic by bringing together genuine values with the cultural heritage of the different civilizations which have passed through Anatolia over the millennia.
Traditional Turkish handicrafts include; carpet-making, rug-making, sumac, cloth-weaving, writing, tile-making, ceramics and pottery, embroidery, leather manufacture, musical instrument-making, masonry, copper work, basket-making, saddle-making, felt-making, weaving, woodwork, cart-making etc.
Weaving materials in traditional Turkish handicrafts consist of wool, mohair, cotton, bristles and silk.
Weaving can be done with all kinds of cloth, and produces plaits, carpets, rugs and felt obtained by spinning thread, connecting the fibers together or by other methods.
Weaving is a handicraft which has been practiced in Anatolia for many years and considered as a mean of earning a livelihood.
Embroidery, a unique example of Turkish handicrafts, is not only used for decoration but also as a means of communication tool with the symbolism in its designs. Today, embroidery made with tools such as the crochet needle, needle, shuttle and hairpin designed either as a border or motif, and goes by different names according to the implement used and the technique. These include; needle, crochet needle, shuttle, hairpin, silk cocoon, wool, candle stick, bead and left-over cloth. Embroidery is generally seen in the provinces of Kastamonu, Konya, Elazığ, Bursa, Bitlis, Gaziantep, İzmir, Ankara, Bolu, Kahramanmaraş, Aydın, İçel, Tokat and Kütahya, although it is gradually losing importance and becoming restricted to trousseau chests.
Along with embroidery used in traditional costumes, jewellery is also commonly used as an accessory. All the civilizations which have existed in Anatolia have produced artistic works made from precious or semi-precious stones and metal. Turkoman jewellery is an excellent example of genuine methods that were brought to Anatolia by the Seljuks. In the Ottoman period, jewellery gained importance in parallel to the development of the empire.
In the Bronze Age in Anatolia, bronze obtained by mixing tin with copper, and materials such as copper, gold and silver were also wrought and cast. The most used material is copper. Various techniques, such as casting, scraping, savaklama, küftgani, ajir kesme and kazima were used. There are also different techniques for working other materials such as brass, gold, silver, and today these handicrafts are trying to be kept alive today by using high quality workmanship and a variety of designs. Copper, the commonest metal used today, is still used for kitchen utensils by plating it with tin.
Architecture, whose origins lie in a need to provide permanent shelter, has also changed and adapted in accordance with local environmental conditions. This development led to wood carving gaining its unique characteristics during the Seljuk period. Seljuk woodworking crafts include extraordinary, high-quality workmanship, the commonest products most common being mosque niches, mosque doors and cupboard covers. In the Ottoman period, these techniques were greatly simplified and applied mostly to objects in daily use, such as tripods, wooden stands for quilted turbans, writing sets, drawers, chests, spoons, thrones, rowing boats, low reading desks, Koran covers and architectural works such as windows, wardrobe covers, beams, consoles, ceilings, niche indicating the direction of Mecca, pulpits and coffins.
The materials used in woodworking were mostly walnut, apple, pear, cedar, ebony and rosewood. Wooden objects were created by such techniques such as tapping, painting, relief-engraving, caging, coating and burning, and these are still employed today. The use of walking sticks became popular in the 19th century, and these are still populare and made by the same methods in the provinces of Zonguldak, Bitlis, Gaziantep, Bursa, İstanbul-Beykoz and Ordu provinces. While the handles of walking sticks are made of materials such as silver, gold and bone, the sticks themselves are usually made of rose, cherry, ebony, bamboo and reed.
Making musical instruments has been a tradition for many long years. These are made from materials such as trees, plants and the skin, bones and horns of animals, and are classified into string, percussion and woodwind groups.
Another art form is glazed earthenware tiles, which were brought to Anatolia by the Seljuks. Seljuk artists were especially successful at creating animal designs. The glazed earthenware tiles initiated in the 14th century in İznik, in the 15th century in Kütahya and in the 17th century in Çanakkale, made a posıtıve contributıon and brought new interpretations to Ottoman ceramic and glazed earthenware tile art. Between the 14 and 19th centuries, Turkish glazed earthenware tiles and ceramic art became world famous for their extraordinary creative workmanship.
The most distinctive examples of the glasswork of Anatolian civilizations illuminate the development of the history of glass work. Stained glass in different models and forms was developed by the Seljuks. In the Ottoman Empire, after the conquest of Istanbul, the city became the glasswork centre. Çeşmi-i Bülbül and Beykoz work are examples of techniques that still survive today.
The first production of glass in the form of a bead to ward of the evil eye was carried out by expert craftsmen in the village of Görele in the province of Izmir. It is possible to see beads for warding off the evil eye in every corner of Anatolia. It is believed that the malicious glances aimed at living things or objects can be averted by using these amulets. Amulets made of bead to ward off the evil eye are therefore put in places where everyone can see them easily.
Stonework plays an important role in exterior and interior decoration in traditional architecture. In addition to architecture, gravestones are other examples of stonework. Techniques such as carving, relief and inscription are applied to gravestones. The ornamental motifs used are plants, geometric motifs, writing and figures. Animal figures are less common. Human figures can be found in Seljuk period art.
Basket-making is carried out by weaving reed, willow, and nut branches in a way that has come down from our ancestors. It is now used for home decoration in addition to its original purpose of helping to carry things.
Packsaddles made of felt and rough cloth formed a sub-branch of traditional artwork during the period when saddles were commonly used in rural areas.
As a result of changing living conditions, and particularly industrialisation, the production of these has now pretty much ceased altogether.
By order of the Folk Culture Research and Development General Directorate, area inspections of handicrafts and expert producers are carried out each year. In these studies, works of art are photographed and recorded for the archives, which are available for use by scientists, experts and students interested in the field.
In order to promote handicrafts, the General Directorate holds exhibitions making use of this archive both inside and outside Turkey. Again with the support of the General Directorate, regional handicraft exhibitions are arranged for the purposes of promotion and to help artists to find markets for their products.
The General Directorate also holds an “International Folk Culture Congress” once every five years. Papers delivered at this congress and other articles from scientific meetings on this subject are published by the directorate.