Ottoman Towel

Ottoman Towel


178 x 56 cm


This Ottoman towel dates to the first half of the 19th century.

The two ends are decoratively embroidered in silk on a ruched silk ground. This is somewhat unusual since these textiles were commonly worked on linen or cotton, which hints at the towel having been made for a particularly important event and in a very wealthy household.

The embroidery is worked in a double running stitch, which means that the front looks the same as the back – a feature most of these towels share. When used, it meant that the towel could be draped over the arm, with both ends showing, when presenting a visitor with a bowl of water for a token hand washing, their hands to be dabbed on the thus offered towel. The design is a five time repeat of a pale stem of leaves with an arrangement of flowers much like a bouquet to its right (or left, depending on which side you view).

These textiles are sometimes called yaglik, which in Turkish refers to a rectangular piece of cotton or linen embroidered, often at both ends, to be used as a napkin, a towel or as an item of home decoration, particularly on special occasions such as weddings or the visit of an honorary person. As such, they were frequently included in the dowry (see also the website of the Textile Research Centre in Leiden at , always a good source of information).

However, the large size of the towel in hand makes it unlikely it was used as a hand towel. A bath towel is the more probable use of the textile. The V&A has a towel of similar, large size in its collection (see, which is dated to the middle of the 19th century. It, too, is on a silk ground.

This towel is in excellent condition, with only two small, barely visible stains on the white ground and the embroidery in a perfect state of preservation.