North Cypriot Traditional Crafts

North Cypriot Traditional Crafts

North Cypriot Traditional Crafts. AS FAR BACK as ancient times, the island of Cyprus has been famous for its handicrafts. From lacework and embroidery to basketry and blue-eyed beads. These amazing arts and crafts are the legacies of many different conquerors and people that have settled on her soil.

Today, the continued survival of these crafts is largely thanks to the support of a co-operative for handicrafts that provide raw materials and assistance, together with the dedication of local people in embracing these time-honored traditions. For many islanders, these crafts are so much more than souvenirs to sell to tourists. These crafts represent hundreds of years of custom and tradition that have metaphorically woven whole communities together.

Below we take a brief look at and pay homage to some of the skills that have been passed down through the generations:

North Cypriot traditional crafts

  • LEFKARA LACE – arguably the finest handmade lacework money can buy. The roots of Lefkara lace date back to the Venetian era where local women would copy the elaborate embroidery from the clothing of the ruling classes taking holidays in the village of Lefkara.  Whilst Lefkara is located in the south, this craft is practiced across the island. Of old, Lefkara lacework would form part of every bride’s dowry and local girls would be required to practice the detailed designs and motifs from childhood.
  • WICKERWORK BASKETS – often in bright weave these baskets are woven from all kinds of wheat straws, grasses, and bamboo using only an awl as a tool. Historically, wickerwork has featured throughout the ages in Cyprus, not least agriculturally where deep baskets would be crucial for harvesting crops. This craft can also be used to make flat trays for bread and jewellery caskets. The baskets are usually light and portable and with each weaver using their own distinctive pattern, the baskets are often uniquely designed.

North Cypriot Traditional crafts

  • SILK COCOON DECORATION – the silk cloth trade once so popular in North Cyprus has sadly succumbed to foreign competition but thanks to a government initiative, Turkish-Cypriots have flocked to classes teaching the traditional craft of silk cocoon decoration. The white silk cocoons, originating from the Karpas peninsula, are firm to the touch enabling each cocoon to be cut open and folded out flat. Intricate shapes are then cut from this flattened cocoon and sewn onto the material, sometimes held in place with tiny beads.
  • BLUE-EYE BEADS – designed to ward off evil, this traditional Turkish talisman is to protect from malicious looks. For those who believe in this superstition, an evil look can have devastating effects. Aside from protecting its wearer from harm, the blue-eye bead is often used to decorate jewellery and ironically makes for very ‘eye-catching’ souvenirs.
  • HANDWOVEN PATTERNED KILIM RUGS – boldly patterned, these handwoven floor rugs are real works of art. Kilim weaving is an ancient tradition predominantly practiced in the villages around Gazimağusa and given the practical and aesthetic appeal of these carpets, this is likely to remain popular with locals and tourists alike.
  • HESAP EMBROIDERY – a colourful embroidery from the Lapithos region of North Cyprus applied to a linen cloth pulled taut on a circular wooden frame. The outline is unique in that it is applied in dark silk rather than the more common method of a pencil drawn outline. The brightly-coloured traditional Cypriot designs are then created using cross-stitch.

To see the best examples of these crafts visit the Folk Arts Institute or shops in the Buyuk Han in North Nicosia, an ancient Ottoman inn today used as a cultural, social and retail centre. Look out for the “El Sanatlari Kooperatifi” sign which authenticates the work as local, with every purchase helping to support the locals who work so hard to keep these traditions alive.