Leyla Arslan Portre

Leyla Aslan: Illustrative Embroidery

Leyla Aslan artistically pushes the boundaries of embroidery and depicts her favorite films and Istanbul buildings in a freestyle she likes calling “illustrative embroidery”.

“That scene in the middle of Çukurova fields seemed very suitable for embroidery. It looks like Van Gogh’s paintings. They are very commonly depicted in the embroidery world, as his brushes and technique matches the string.”

Embroidery looks like infinite. How did you dive through that rabbit hole?
I started by processing jar lids at the age of 12-13 with the insistence of my mother. Then I liked it very much and wanted to advance. At that time, there were traditional Turkish embroidery courses at Beylerbeyi Institute. I started there with the “white work” technique. We were working with those antique Singer sewing machines. School and professional life took me away from it. When I took a break from work, I got back to decorative embroidery. Now I do what I call “illustrative embroidery.”

You are illustrating three-dimensional scenes and you seem to have slid from artisanship to artistry in embroidery…
I attended a painting class for a semester, and the knowledge of color has contributed to my work a lot. In cross-stitch embroidery, you count the holes on the etamin, while you are working. I wanted to go out of this limitation and try a freestyle that I call “illustrative embroidery”. I have a passion for photography and I love strolling through Istanbul alone in my spare time. First, I made an embroidery of the Big Post Office in Sirkeci looking at a photograph from the 1930s. Then I illustrated Vlora Han, which is just across. I had to take photos of the building from the upper floors of the Big Post Office though, with the permission of the director. While I was looking for ways to elevate the bar a little more, I thought of transforming a Devrim Erbil picture into embroidery. A crazy idea it was! It took me six months and pushed me hard, but I did so fondly. I had to sketch the painting on the fabric first, as the printing companies cannot transfer patterns to the fabric as the way I like. The fabric turns into something tough like plastic after the process.

Leyla Aslan Bir Zamanlar Anadolu'da
A scene from the Nuri Bilge Ceylan film "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia". Above, from left: At an embroidery course of Leyla Aslan; Vlora Han building in Sirkeci.


How did you decide to turn a film scene into embroidery?
It was from “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” by Nuri Bilge Ceylan. That scene in the middle of Çukurova fields seemed very suitable for embroidery. It looks like Van Gogh’s paintings. They are very commonly depicted in the embroidery world, as his brushes and technique matches the string. I would like to start a series of movie scenes. The next one could be from “Yol” by Yılmaz Güney, for instance.

Leyla Aslan Büyük Postane
The Big Post Office in Sirkeci.

Embroidery is always perceived as feminine work. But there are also men embroidering, right?
I had two male students. They were really good. They took their embroidery panel very seriously. I am sure more men would be interested in embroidery courses, but cannot dare to come. I don’t think embroidery is women’s work. Just as there are very good male tailors… Now that everything is virtual, people miss doing things with their hands.

Is that why embroidery is fashionable again?
Yes, but making owls, cactuses and Fridas is very fashionable at the moment! Young people no longer hang an Antep “antique work” on their wall, unless they are collectors …

You’ve been doing embroidery workshops for a while. What exactly are you teaching there?
I first talk about fabric and yarn harmony and start with basic techniques. Then I show what could be done with those techniques. In the class, we finish half of a panel, while attendees complete their work at home and send a photo afterward. Before coming to the class, they always scroll Instagram, and Pinterest. There are thousands of patterns and styles displayed on social media of course. For that reason, they come with great expectations and excitement. At first, I was very surprised to see that those who say they don’t know how to sew buttons turned out to be very good embroiders in the end.

“Illustrating owls, cactuses and Frida is very fashionable in embroidery at the moment! Young people no longer hang an Antep ‘antique work’ on their wall, unless they are collectors.”


Which neighborhood does your heart belong to?
I grew up in Çengelköy. Times when the TV series “Super Dad” was shot. Then we lived in Marmaris with the family for some time. We have been living on the Anatolian side since we returned to Istanbul, but I love the Historical Peninsula.

Where do you feel good in Istanbul?
I am addicted to Voyvoda Street (also known as Banks Street) in Karaköy, and especially Salt Galata building along this street. If you look up, you would notice the exquisite lion figures on the facade. Then, there is a historical inn at the end of a street of ironmongers on Thursday Market nearby. The tea shops serving the artisans there are the best!

What is the most beautiful thing you have seen lately?
That angel relief you’ve just shown me, and said you would put on the cover of your magazine’s first issue.

Yeah! My daughter placed at Istanbul University at the entrance exams. When we had a stroll the other day from Beyoğlu to Beyazıt, we saw a similar figure at the entrance of a passage near Narmanlı Han, but this one you showed me is really good! By the way, I felt very sorry for the restoration of Narmanlı Han. I’ve passed that point frequently during the renovation, and I still have goosebumps when I think about it.

They restyled it like a cheesy birthday cake…
If it was a place built from a scratch, perhaps it wouldn’t be so disturbing. But we knew the history of the building, and read about the magnetic atmosphere the resident artists and writers have created at that place. It was possible to renovate the building more naturally and turn it into a museum. It would be much more valuable. Maybe I can embroider Narmanlı Han’s former version, looking at old photographs.

What’s next?
I would very much like to do some work using historical city maps. I am deeply interested in miniature art and tiles as well. I will see how I could combine them all in embroidery.

To follow Leyla Aslan’s works and workshops on Instagram: @embroideryleyla

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