An Ottoman Turkish Outfit — Part I: the outer caftan

Over the years, I have I've made a number of different Turkish outfits.  But I've never made a fully-blown formal outfit with all the associated layers.  My friend in Chicago invited me to a 16th century 12th Night celebration and it seemed like the perfect occasion for a complete Ottoman Turkish wardrobe. I usually begin every project with the underclothing.  This project is no exception.  I just did it seven years ago.  You can read about it here: It is important to make the layers from the inside out so they will fit you properly and also fit with each other when worn.  However, given that I am going to quilt the outer layer and I am operating under a deadline, it was necessary to start the outer layer first and get it on the quilting frame. I took my inspiration from the caftan of Sultan Selim II who died in 1520.  His garments are preserved in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul.  More importantly, the great documentrice of historical clothing, Janet Arnold, examined this garment when it came to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 1967 (the year of my birth, incidentally) and wrote an article for the journal, Costume.  Although this is a man's caftan, we know that men's and women's caftans differed very little in construction, especially the quilted and fur-lined varieties that were worn in winter. Because of a lack of availability of red silk in a satin weave with 3" yellow twilled spots grouped in triads, I chose a heavy silk brocade in a similar colour scheme that resembled other caftans in the Topkapi Palace collection.
[caption id="attachment_19269" align="alignleft" width="189"] my brocade[/caption] [caption id="attachment_19271" align="alignleft" width="255"] another quilted caftan in the Topkapi Museum[/caption]
Arnold mentions that the original material was only about 26" wide.  Mine is 36" so I cut it in the same manner as the original.  The front overlaps are cut apiece with the fronts and the gores and sleeves are added on.  The right front and back are continuous and the left front is added on with a join on the left shoulder ridge also mimicking the original.  Unlike usual practice, the gores are attached on the straight so that the pattern matches the front.  No attempt was made to match the side seams of the gores. [caption id="attachment_19288" align="alignleft" width="157"] no pattern matching here[/caption] I took care to match the pattern for the gores, the sleeves, and the left shoulder join because that was done on the original.  Other caftans in the Topkapi Museum do not show such attention to pattern matching. [caption id="attachment_19300" align="alignright" width="300"] the padding laid over the brocade and the brocade seam allowances wrapped around the edges of the padding[/caption] Like the original, my caftan is padded with wool.  I used a spongy olive green wool crepe that I had lying about.  But as I had only 2 yards of it, I supplemented it with some grey wool melton that was about the same thickness.  The melton supplies the sleeves and front overlaps.  The seam allowances were trimmed from the wool and the seams butted and held with a whipstitch.  The brocade outer material seam allowances were wrapped around the wool and basted into place.
[caption id="attachment_19292" align="aligncenter" width="225"] the pattern marked on the padding[/caption] [caption id="attachment_19293" align="aligncenter" width="300"] piecing is easy[/caption] [caption id="attachment_19294" align="aligncenter" width="300"] whipstitch the edges[/caption] [caption id="attachment_19295" align="aligncenter" width="300"] press hard with lots of steam[/caption] [caption id="attachment_19296" align="aligncenter" width="300"] nearly invisible[/caption]
I lined the garment with yellow Thai silk taffeta.  The lining has no join on the shoulder, but the overlaps and gores are cut separately and sewed on.  The sleeves were cut apiece with the body.  I trimmed the lining back from the edges of the garment so it would not bag when worn. Like the original, I faced the caftan with 5" wide bias strips of bright green silk.  I used a shot silk made from yellow and blue threads that changes attractively in the light.  The facing is held to the edges by a back stitch in yellow silk thread.
[caption id="attachment_19305" align="aligncenter" width="300"] backstitch in yellow silk thread[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="300"] folding the facing into the corner[/caption] [caption id="attachment_19307" align="aligncenter" width="300"] mitring the corners[/caption]


Putting the caftan on the quilting frame.  

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And, Metin. Istanbul in the 16th century. 1994: Akbank Culture and Art Department, Istanbul. Arnold, Janet. "The Pattern of a Caftan, said to have been worn by Selim II (1512-20), from the Topkapi Sarayi Museum (Accession Number 2/4415), on display at the exhibition of Turkish art of the Seljuk and Ottoman periods, at the Victoria and Albert Museum, November 1967." Costume: The Journal of the Costume Society. London: Victoria and Albert Museum. 1968, No. 2.

Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion 4: The Cut and Construction of linen shirts, etc. 2008: Macmillan, London.

Scarce, Jennifer. Women's Costume of the Near and Middle East. Unwin Hyman, London, 1987. Sevgi Gurtuna. Osmanli Kadan Giyisi. Kültür Bakanligi , Ankara, 1999.
© 2017 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice, the author's name and website, and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.