One Turkish crocheter says to the other, “So you crochet, right?”

The friend replies, “O, ya!”

I’m sorry.  Terrible introductions aside, today’s topic is Turkish Oya.

The word “oya” generally refers to edging, but today we’re talking about the crocheted edging, or “tig oyasi.”  If you’re really interested in making edging for scarves, clothes, or linens, Turkish Oya also encompasses other methods using shuttles, needles, and hairpins, but be warned: using needles tends to mean thinner threads!  Learning the craft can be complicated, because it’s traditionally taught person-to-person, meaning there are very few books about how to achieve the delicate, beautiful borders of Turkish Oya.

Speaking of borders, claims to the origin of the technique cross regional borders; many different regions claim to be the birthplace of Oya, and the first references date back to the B.C.E. days.  Like the Gansey sweaters, Turkish Oya may have been influenced by the fishing cultures of the Mediterranean, specifically the netting used by the fishermen.

Oya is more than just pretty edging.  Its various motifs have different symbolic meanings that come into play in regional traditions.  In Konya, in the Central Anatolia area of Turkey, an engaged woman sends a piece of cloth edged with Oya to her soon-to-be mother-in-law.  The mother-in-law is supposed to wear the cloth as a scarf at the wedding ceremony, where everyone can “read” the scarf and get the scoop on the family dynamic.  Sending someone a cloth with the “meadows and grass” edging would indicate happiness and a good relationship, while sending a cloth edged with the “gravestone” design was – unsurprisingly – an indication of a bad relationship and a dislike that endures to the grave.  The groom’s family, in turn, sends over a cloth for the bride, with a couple of Oya flowers.  The cloth becomes the headdress for the bride.

Married women who wore red hot peppers were trying to tell their husbands that they were unhappy in their marriage, while wearing a scarf edged with the “soldier” design told people that you had a loved one in the military.  And this “Oya dictionary” keeps expanding.  The “Pasha star” motif is also known as the “Zeki Müren eyelash,” after a Turkish singer from the 70s and 80s.  Meanwhile, the “Türkan Soray eyelash” gets its name from a famous actress.

Fortunately for the GYI! crocheters, tig oyasi only requires knowing a few techniques: the chain stitch, double crochet stitches, and the slip knot.

Here are a few sites to get you started:

A whole compendium of blog posts about Oya

A free pattern for “sevens” Oya edging

An eHow video that shows you how to make a chain of flowers

These sites were major sources addressing the history of Turkish Oya:

Nordic Needle

Couch Crochet Crumbs



A Wale of a Tale

As we at Gosh Yarn It! like to point out, knitting and crocheting can be survival skills.  Knitting was a literal life saver in Wales in the year without a summer.

In April 1815, Indonesia’s Mount Tambora erupted, causing global temperatures to drop.  This led to some dreary summer days in 1816, and a gang of writers decided to have a scary story contest to salvage their ruined Swiss vacation.  Colder temperatures and heavy rains also led to crop failures in Britain and Ireland, including Wales.  This is where knitting comes in.  In 2012, Wales was home to nearly 8.9 million sheep – and about 3.06 million people.

So when famine struck, men and women took advantage of the domestic stocking industry in such places as Merioneth and Llanuwchllyn.  The knitting of stockings was a major cottage industry in the highland districts of Wales.  Robert Thomas wrote that local men, in addition to women, were skilled knitters, and children were taught to knit as well, so that entire families could pitch in during the hardship.

Traditional stockings from mid-Wales are made with undyed wool welts and toes, and blue or grey legs.  Although most stockings were based more on tradition than on patterns, you can find out more from Nancy Bush’s pattern, published in Folk Socks: The History and Techniques of Handknitted Footwear.

Welsh women were pros when it came to knitting productivity.  They took raw wool, carded it, spun it, and knitted it up, typically producing four pairs of stockings per week.  They took their handicraft everywhere, knitting while they walked.

And in the evenings…

They had knitting groups where they would gather together for nosweithiau gwau, also known as knitting nights or stitch ‘n bitch sessions!


The Mysterious Tunisian Crochet

The history of crocheting can be sort of tricky, mostly because there are so many different styles, not just of finished products, but of methods and even materials.  For example, one of the earliest forms of crochet in Europe was called tambouring and required pulling loops through a background fabric, like a hybrid of crochet and embroidery.

Many think that, like tambouring, Tunisian crochet probably started somewhere in Asia, likely moving west through the Middle East before turning north into Europe and Scandinavia.  Others believe that the name was coined by the French.  We may never know.

But at GYI! we don’t hold crochet’s shady past against it.  Today’s post is about Tunisian crochet which, like any dubious character, has many aliases: Shepard’s Knitting, German Work, Railway Knitting, Russian Work, Tricot Work, and Royal Princess Knitting.

The fabrics made through Tunisian crochet tend to be denser and heavier than other types.  That’s why the Afghan stitch, closely related to Tunisian crochet, is often used to make… wait for it… afghans.

Tunisian crochet, like traditional crochet, starts out with a chain, but the fabric is never turned, and you work the same side back and forth.  That’s why most Afghan hooks are longer, with a stopper on the end – you have to keep lots of stitches on them.

Tunisian crochet was pretty popular in the 1920s, and had a resurgence in the 1970s.  However, much like the architecture of the 1970s, Tunisian crochet faced a wide backlash and is just now coming back in vogue as people learn that it’s not all scratchy blankets.

The Tunisian Simple Stitch makes a grid pattern, quite handy as an embroidery surface, while the Tunisian Knit Stitch is a good doppelgänger for the knit stockinette stitch.  There’s even an urban legend that one woman entered a crocheted piece into a contest at her County Fair, but was disqualified because the judges thought it was knitted.


So, in review, Tunisian crochet:

Mysterious past

Master of disguise

Craft of international spy rings (??)

Tunisian Crochet Resources

ChezCrochet has an overview of the many aliases of the technique, plus some instructions on the basics of Tunisian crochet.

Allfreecrochet.com has a compendium of tutorials and easy patterns to practice.

Free Crochet Videos has a great video tutorial with written instructions for trying your hand at the basketweave pattern, which looks uncannily like its knitted counterpart.

Aran’s Party

Last post, we left off with quite the cliffhanger.  What happened when the Gansey went north??

Relax.  I’ll tell you.

It morphed into the Aran sweater.


The Aran sweater takes its name from the Aran Islands, off the West coast of Ireland.  Nobody is quite sure when, but most historians think it was invented in the early 1900s by a small group of island women who adapted the gansey by using thicker wool and adding their own patterns to represent local traditions.

Traditionally made from undyed, unwashed wool, their designs are based off a central axis of symmetry, with patterns extending down the sleeves and body (as opposed to the plain sleeves of the Gansey).

Paddy himself!

Aran sweaters came to the United States from the west of Ireland beginning in the early 1950s.  Under the organization of Paddy Ó Síocháin (I know, right?!) exports took off in the 1950s and 60s.  He hired an instructor with a grant from the Congested Districts Board for Ireland to teach knitters how to make Aran sweaters in standard sizes, and knitting soon became a significant part of the Aran Islands’ economy.

It’s romantic to think that, with all their symbols and with their Irish roots, these sweaters are the yarn equivalent of an old Irish granny, full of lore and Emerald Isle magic.

Marketers know this, so they’ve claimed that the stitches and patterns were handed down from generation to generation, and that drowned fishermen were often identified by these clan patterns.  Anyone with access to Google will find that’s not quite true, but why suck the fun out of everything!


Many of the stitches seem to be modeled on neolithic burial sites and, famously, on designs in the Book of Kells.  These patterns have picked up some fun symbolic meanings over the years.  Cables are intended to mimic, funnily enough, fisherman’s cables, representing a fruitful day at sea.


Diamonds reflect the small fields on the Aran Islands.  The diamonds are often filled with the Irish moss stitch, which depicts the seaweed used as fertilizer to secure a good harvest.  Together, they represent a wish for success, wealth, and finding a diamond mine in your vegetable patch.

The zig-zags are the winding paths along the cliffs of the islands, while the Tree of Life represents hopes of family unity and long lives.

Basket stitches represent the fisherman’s basket for a good catch.

Finally, the honeycomb stitch is a tribute to the bee, representing hard work.  Since Aran sweaters have around 100,000 stitches, the honeycomb is a fitting addition.

Next, we’ll explore the world of crochet traditions!

Aran Resources

Irish Culture and Customs has a post by a woman who went to the Aran Isles to seek out her family pattern and unravel some of the history of the sweaters.

Aran Sweater Market has a catalogue full of patterns and kits.  Bonus: if you have Irish ancestors, you can pick a pattern supposedly associated with your clan!  If not, Colin Farrell’s clan pattern is pretty lovely, so just pretend you’re related to him.

The LoveKnitting Blog has collected their top 10 free patterns for women’s Aran sweaters, and their top 5 free patterns for men’s Aran sweaters.

The Gansey

In the Channel Islands, Guernsey relied on fishing.  Fishing relies on fishermen.  And fishermen rely on durable, easily-repaired, stain-resistant, warm clothing.  Hence: the Guernsey, or Gansey, sweater!


First, the name.  I’ve read several articles on Ganseys/Guernseys but the entire time, I was wondering if there was a subtle difference, if one was more genuine, or older, or actually highly politically-incorrect.  Turns out, Gansey is just a dialect variation of Guernsey.  Phew.

1340The Gansey is designed to be practical, with neck and underarm gussets for a full range of movement and an extremely tight knit.  The neck and cuffs are very tight to keep out winter winds, and the sleeves ended short of the wrist to keep the sweater out of the way while the fishermen worked.  The lower sleeves took on the most wear, so they were left plain.  The worn parts can be unraveled and redone with new wool, while preserving the intricate patterning that both displays knitting prowess and provides extra insulation across the chest and shoulders.

Ganseys are traditionally knit in the round with tightly-spun 5-ply worsted wool popularly known as “Seamen’s Iron.”  The hard twist of the tightly-packed wool fibers, as well as the protective oils in the wool, help to repel the drizzle and spray of the sea.  Fishermen wore their Ganseys off the boats too.  They had their “Sunday Best” Ganseys to wear to Church and on special occasions.

3011Knitting is mentioned in Guernsey as early as the 15th century, and a cottage industry of woolen stockings and waistcoats thrived through most of the 17th and 18th centuries.  Trade relations meant that the Gansey sweaters spread quickly around the British Isles in the 17th century.  During the Napoleonic Wars, the Gansey was adopted as part of the Royal Navy’s uniform and were worn at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

As the patterns worked their way north, designs grew more intricate and detailed, so that by the time they hit Irish and Scottish fishing islands, they morphed into a new form of sweater entirely.  Stay tuned!



Gansey Resources

Flamborough Marine Ltd. has a gallery of patterns, as well as a history of the craft.  They also have tantalizing kits for those who want to make their own, but they only deliver to the UK.

Gansey Nation is a blog by Gordon Reid who, as far as this knitter can tell, is absolutely obsessed with Ganseys.  He’s an archivist and writer who also knits and bakes baguettes.  Living the dream!

Churchmouse Yarns sells traditional Gansey wool spun in Yorkshire and imported from Penzance.  They have a whole range of colors, though traditional Ganseys were in navy or cream.