Children’s clothes and toys have been a focus of love and concern and a source of joy and happiness in every society since time immemorial. Before a baby is born, friends and family members all enthusiastically knit, weave and sew elaborately embroidered clothing so as to wrap the naked body of the tiny infant in mini-garments made with painstaking care in line with traditional beliefs. Such clothes are naturally shaped by the family environment as well as by the customs, traditions, beliefs and geography of their society. These millennia-old traditions still persist today in Anatolia, the cradle of civilizations for more than 12 millenniums.

Talismanic clothing and evil eye beads are the first thing that pop into mind at the mention of children’s clothing in Anatolia. Such clothes, whose origin pre-dates the rise of the monotheistic religions, utilize a thousand and one different materials and are designed to ensure that children are healthy and long-lived. Such ‘patchwork’ clothing also expresses traditional beliefs. Mothers, for example, who have lost children, make patchwork clothes to protect their babies from evil spirits. There is a belief that evil spirits come in the night and that, as they struggle to remove the layers of clothing piece by piece, day dawns and they vanish into thin air. Let us now relate one such story. There once was a woman named Bahar Hatun whose babies died as soon as they were born. This grief-stricken young mother collected bits of cloth from seven families that had been blessed with children and made from them a variety of baby clothes. Eventually Bahar Hatun gave birth to a beautiful baby girl followed immediately by a boy.

While they were growing up she dressed both of them in patchwork clothing and sang them lullabies: “May he sleep, may he grow / Sleep my child, let my yearning arms hold you / May angels be at your side every night / Drive away evil spirits and watch over my little one.” And Bahar Hatun’s babies grew up to be a fine young woman and a strapping young man. And never, until he was engaged to be married, did she cease from making her son’s cloak, waistcoat, and skullcap from seven different scraps of fabric, or from decking her daughter out in patches of cloth of every color in the rainbow until she became a bride.

Such patchwork clothing is known in the local parlance as ‘hastalik sasirtmasi’ or ‘warding off disease’. If you see a young person dressed in patchwork in the village marketplace, you can be sure that this is an expression of traditional belief. A number of protective charms are also attached to the baby’s clothes and caps to ward off the evil eye: seven-eye beads, evil eye beads, blue buttons, seashells, coins, parts of birds, frogs and bone, animal teeth, lumps of alum, black cumin and other seeds, amulets, ‘Mother Fatima’ or ‘Mother Mary’ hands, Armudiye charms, talismanic metal jewelry, colorful tassels, and a myriad of embroidered designs... All these charms can be seen lined up on the soft undershirts made with fervent belief and worn by children. Even the socks, booties and rawhide sandals children wear on their feet are carefully decorated. We can see even more elaborate examples of such patchwork, which continues to be worn today in the Turkic world, in the clothing of children from Turkistan and Uzbekistan.

Another tradition that lives on today is that of making the newborn baby’s first under garments from bits of his father’s old underwear. This is done to ensure that the baby, who is used to his mother’s smell from birth, becomes familiar with his father’s smell and learns to love him as well. Babies were dressed for ‘kirk hamam’ or baby’s name day ceremonies (on the 40th day after birth) in a shirt and undershirt of crushed silk and a ‘life sash’ that was tied with green ribbons over the swaddling clothes. Based on sacred belief, this sash symbolized longevity for the boy or girl on whom it was girded.

Anatolian toys, made of local natural materials. Wooden carts for boys and wooden cradles for girls made from thin tree branches or the stalks of plants, and dolls and puppets fashioned from wooden sticks and bits of cloth, such toys not only provide children with fun but are also important for developing their manual skills and creativity. Talismanic clothing, evil eye charms, colorful booties, soft undergarments, wooden toys... all are words that seem to resound in our ears out of the depths of history. Nevertheless, you can still see such items in many parts of Anatolia today, on baby clothes and on toddlers chasing after toy wooden carts.

Reference: Sabiha Tansug, Onder Durmaz / SKYLIFE

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