These types of knitted slippers – called ‘çetik’ (cheh-teek) – are quite common in Turkish villages. Most village women produce such handiwork to supplement the household income. They are gorgeous, comfortable, and made by very skilled hands, and the next time you’re in Turkey, I hope you make it a priority to purchase at least one pair. I’ve been given a few pairs over the years, often brought by friends and acquaintances from their own villages, but this pair I’d like to share with you is particularly special to me.
They were given to me by my hostess on a school trip to a village just outside Ankara. Our aim was to fulfil the ‘service’ requirements of our IB curriculum; we were to play games and teach the children, deliver our old computers to them, and paint a pretty mural in their dining hall. Our work took us two days, and several families in the village put us up for one night. Although we were the ones bestowing the supposed “charity,” it was the generosity of our hostess that really touched me. She laid on lavish meals for my friend and I, seated on the floor with the traditional large, round tray. Their house seemed very spacious to me. Everyone I knew lived in the city, in flats that were crammed with furniture. Their timber house had a barn downstairs, and stone steps that led down to a courtyard where chickens wandered about. One of the children brought in a kid, which ran up and down the hall baa-ing for its mother. On the other side of the house was a small garden with mulberry trees and a vegetable patch. Further on were the barns that housed their cows. The village smelt rather pungently of animals and manure, and you had to watch your step as you walked along the narrow streets, and give way to herds of goats (and goatherds). On the way to school in the morning the children picked daisies and poppies and pistachios.
It looked almost idyllic to me, and yet our hostess was very apologetic and humble. She said things must be so much nicer and cleaner in the city, she was sorry they couldn’t do better. She brought out two large bags, one with knitted slippers, and one with headscarves with edges worked in delicate needle lace. I chose this pair of slippers, and a lovely dark red headscarf. I thought the bold, beautiful strawberry motif was unusual, not like the traditional, abstract motifs of Turkish socks. I imagined my hostess deciding to knit something a little different one day, sitting on the divan, alone in the living room while the children were at school and her husband asleep (he worked night shifts at the mine), crossing her legs in the shalvar she wore, and expertly choosing the colours. The black shows off the red and green to perfection. The knitting is tight, so that the slipper is hard-wearing, and the strawberries which appear upside down when the slippers are laid flat, smile up at me the right way round when I wear them. I don’t wear them too often though, because they’re so special.
They remind me of the strawberries my Granddad grows. When I was little and we visited England every other summer, my Granddad would present me with the first big, ripe, juicy, sweet, bright red strawberry of the season, and I would eat it with my Weetabix (another treat we couldn’t get in Turkey) for breakfast. They remind me of the cold winters of Turkey, and the warm red glow of the summers. They remind me of Morris’s ‘Strawberry Thief‘, and of the strawberries ripening outside the cottage right now, in Wales. But most of all, I suppose, they remind me of the generosity of this knitter. I hope she doesn’t consider herself poor for living in a village rather than a city. I hope she realises that she’s an artist, and knows that I treasure these slippers she spent hours working on. I know they must have been hard to part with.