A Fish Out Of Water: Catherine Bayar From Santa Barbara To Turkey

This week for my A Fish Out Of Water series I am interviewing Catherine Bayar about her business, weddings and life in Turkey. She is an incredibly talented and accomplished woman. I have to warn you, this post will make you want to move to Turkey!


Weaving together a handmade life

Oya Strands 2
Turkish needle lace ‘oya’, worked with silk thread and a very tiny needle

Where are you from originally? What brought you to Turkey?

I grew up in sleepy beach town Santa Barbara, California, whitewashed Moorish architecture and Old Spanish Mission surrounded by orange groves. The locals disdained any connection to sprawling chaotic Los Angeles to the south. So I was drawn to that urban energy for college, living in the shadows of skyscrapers and freeways while I studied art history and clothing design. From an early age I liked figuring out how things fit together – puzzles, garments, buildings, languages, cultures.

Istanbul was a production stop in my travels as a clothing designer for an American sportswear company. The bazaars, the food, the textiles and layers of history intrigued me, as did a modern work style melding with timeless elements of daily life that made business trips fun, not dreadful. I came back on my own time to explore this unique cultural mix of Europe and Asia and met my husband and business partner Abit.


Etsy home office
Redefining the ‘home office’. Pic from an Etsy International admin visit @ krutipie

Can you tell us about your Etsy Shop Bazaar Bayar? How did you start it and why? Could you explain what fair trade means?

Bayar is Abit’s family name. We opened a textile shop and café in the small Aegean town of Selcuk when I move to Turkey in the late ‘90’s, a bazaar of our favorite vintage textiles, homemade meals, local wine. We’re both treasure hunters who live to make things – me with fiber, he with food. Abit grew up in Mardin, a southeastern province on the Syrian border, an ancient cosmopolitan crossroads of Kurds, Persians, Arabs, Christians, Muslims, Jews, even Zoroastians. I bonded with the women of Abit’s extended family through our shared love of knitting, crochet and weaving.  Village women not only had to weave, grow, make everything they needed for a household, but they beautifully embellished those items when they merely needed to be functional.

We opened our Etsy shop in a move to Istanbul in 2010, to have a 24/7 location independent place to sell our rugs and handknits. Women in the city still knit and crochet for their families, and welcome extra cash. Witnessing bad conditions in the garment industry taught me the importance of fairly compensating makers for their work. Their valuable skills should not be exploited so international buyers can have cheap prices. Turkey is an emerging economy, part of the G20, with wide differences in economic levels.

Floral Rugs Jan 2013
Traditional handwoven carpets combine the colors and patterns that inspire our work

Are women in Turkey business minded or do you train/educate them about business practices?

My first visits in the early ‘90’s, our agent’s manufacturing business was run by an impressive group of multilingual women. The owner had a very different approach than those in other countries where I’d worked: he preferred female attention to detail and their spirit of cooperation, traits he felt were lacking in men he’d employed.

Opportunities for education vary greatly here, with some women rising to positions as CEOs while others can only find work picking produce. But a strong work ethic, a desire to be productive is pervasive in the culture. I might know more about doing business via the Internet or catering to a global market. But I let the women we work with follow their own rhythms and creativity. We’d rather invigorate traditions than completely recreate them.


Old City Istanbul, surrounded by water and ever changing skies

Can you describe what you enjoy about living in Turkey and maybe a few things you don’t?

We have easy access to the materials and inspiration to build our handcrafted life. We can combine seaside living with an urban environment without huge expense – impossible in California. Istanbul is the world’s largest village, with the butcher, baker and produce seller across the street, neighbors who know and look out for each other. After 14 years, the negative aspects are decreasing. It’s still tough to balance the claustrophobic closeness of families here with my independent nature, but respect on both sides has grown.

Tiles in 16C Rustem Pasa Mosque reflect Turkey’s patchwork culture

What is it like to live in a country that borders Iran, Iraq and Syria? Have you ever been concerned about your safety?

I’ve only been fearful when living by myself in the US, never here. Traveling alone to many countries, my most uncomfortable times were in India and Italy, but they were part of the essential life lessons that only travel, especially being the odd one out, brings. Traveling around Turkey was easy, except for the cloying attention of carpet sellers. Considering that’s how I met Abit on the street, I guess I’m more open to adventure, but I have a curious nature tempered by common sense.

Turkey is in an “interesting” neighborhood, true. Yet I see it as the stable center. These ancient places take the long view of history, thinking in centuries and civilizations. The people in the countries we border don’t scare me, though some of their leaders do. Outsider fear mongering through deliberate misunderstanding is far more frightening to me.

2Bazaar Bayar Hamam KB Sifa + TweedVK-1

Figgi Yarns silverized cotton knitted up into Bazaar Bayar hamam bath products.

Could you tell us about your knitting retreats and what they are like?

Our retreats came about as my knit partner Figen Cakir and I began collaborating. Compulsive knitters and yarn shoppers we are, we wanted to share our finds! We spend our 3–day weekends with guests exploring the bazaars for yarns and trims, visiting old mosques and museums for tile and color inspiration, and eating too much delicious food to keep up our strength for knitting, designing and lots of conversation.  We’re also traveling to Mardin and Selcuk at the end of May this year, a journey to the places and crafts we call home.

Our wedding in Sirince: colorful, chaotic, and such a great day

 This is a question from my husband: Have you ever attended a Turkish wedding? Would you describe what it was like?

We attended one yesterday! Weddings are the central social life event here, varying greatly by region, income and ethnicity. In Selcuk within Abit’s large Kurdish family, they seemed to happen weekly. Everyone the bride and groom has ever known is invited to a large outdoor public location, though recently communities have built wedding halls to control the street party aspect.


Sister-in-law’s wedding in Selcuk, 2009. We’re related to everyone here!

Huge amounts of Kurdish home cooking were served yesterday – platters of grilled chicken and butter drenched rice, white bean soup with a spicy tomato base, stuffed peppers and grape leaves, pickled veggies (a traditional cure for winter sniffles), arugula drizzled in lemon juice and copious amounts of sugary strong black tea. Traditionally weddings were 3 days to even a week long, with ancient rituals like henna nights and visits to the hamam the day before to prepare.

We had our wedding in the hilltop garden of an old stone schoolhouse in the village of Sirince.  An embroidered Indian gown and sit-down dinner were my cross-cultural contributions. A short civil ceremony followed by a long receiving line of well wishers pinning us with gold and money, a crazy tall wedding cake cut by a ridiculously long curved sword, and hours of traditional line dancing with everyone young and old. Turkey is like this: a vigorous swirl of emotion, color and creativity tempered by time and tradition.  A place to create a culture of our own.


Do you want to know more? Check out some of the links below!

You can find Catherine Bayar on Google+

Bazaar Bayar: Selçuk: An Aegean Home to Art

Bazaar Bayar: Mardin, Midyat, Diyarbakir, Derik, Hasankeyf…

Bazaar Bayar Etsy Shop

Bazaar Bayar: The ‘girl effect’ hits home

Goodlifer: Gift Guide: Bazaar Bayar Building On The Past To Create Sustainable Futures In Turkey.

Bazaar Bayar: Safe, scary or a place for sharing?

Bazaar Bayar: Istanbul Knit Retreats

 Bazaar Bayar: The Turkish Tulip: Fiber Arts + Culture Trip


13 thoughts on “A Fish Out Of Water: Catherine Bayar From Santa Barbara To Turkey”

  1. This is such an interesting series & WHAT a beautiful bride! That’s it…I’m getting a new passport this year. Haven’t decided where we’re going, but we’re going SOMEWHERE!

    1. Everyone I have talked to about Turkey says the same thing. They all want to go back and have very bright memories about their trip. I hope to get there one day.

    2. Thank you! Maybe someday I’ll figure out a simple way to explain what Turkey does when it works its magic, beyond the last two sentences above. Not easy…

      Love your tulips pics – can’t wait til they bloom!

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