The Ultimate Guide To Bohça
Wrapped in Fabric
Like the Japanese furoshiki and Korean bojagi, Turkish bohça are square cloths of fabric used to wrap various goods and gifts. The word "bohça" is derived from the old Turkic word "boğ" (meaning "to tighten" or "to choke") with the suffix "ça" (used as "like") and is synonymous with the old Turkic "boχtay boğum-lu," meaning "clothes package" or "bundle."
THE HISTORY OF BOHÇA
Bohça holds a special place in Turkey's rich culture. Thought to have originated in the 11th century, the oldest recorded usage of this word (boğça) in history can be found in the dictionary, Câmi-ül Fürs (1501), which was created to teach Persian to Turks at the beginning of the 16th century.
It is believed that bohça emerged during the Nomadic period (from the 5th to the 12th century) as a practical requirement for the nomadic culture's active lifestyle. Turkish nomads collected and preserved artifacts, storing their belongings in light, easily gathered, and transportable bohça, saddle bags, and chests. The Turks who lived in permanent settlements bundled their valuable belongings, such as clothing and dowry, in bohça.
Bohça grew in popularity during the Ottoman period (1299 to 1922). People began to wrap their belongings and gifts, regardless of size, in cloth. The wrapped fabric was also used to symbolize the value of the gift. After the Ottoman period, the usage of these fabric wrappings faded. Today, they are rarely seen, but they make special appearances at engagements and weddings. Turkish citizens no longer use them to wrap ordinary gifts.
THE FABRICS, FORMAT, SIZES, AND COLORS OF BOHÇA
The fabrics and sizes of a bohça may vary, but its shape always remains square. There are no fixed sizes, as bohça were traditionally produced for special occasions.
The ideal fabric is typically sturdy and thick enough to protect the goods but must also be manageable for tying knots. Consequently, cotton was a durable and popular fabric for everyday use.
Embroidered silk fabrics are commonly used for bridal and dowry bundles, as well as for precious products. The thin, delicate cloths are not strong enough for everyday use and may reveal what's inside if they are too transparent.
Bohça colors are not strictly defined. Those used for weddings (gelin bohçası, damat bohçası, nişan bohçası, çeyi̇z bohçası) are always white, while cloths for other occasions vary in color.
TRADITIONAL PATTERNS AS A RICH ART OF BOHÇA
Depending on geographical differences, social environments, and the sources from which they draw inspiration, bohça might look quite different. Turkish embroidery, drawing from rich sources such as Central Asian, Islamic, and Anatolian civilizations, is incredibly diverse and rich in design. Bohça, adorned with floral motifs, bird figurines, geometric shapes, Ottoman styles, and various color harmonies, are a feast for the eyes.
To complement the uniqueness of their patterns, the embroideries on these cloths feature a wide range of applications (beads, ribbons, sequins, pearls, and much more), materials (metal threads and sometimes even gold threads), and application methods, resulting in a visually rich appearance. This aspect of Turkish culture exemplifies delicate hand craftsmanship and showcases the finest examples of Turkish needlework art.
TRADITIONAL USE CASES OF BOHÇA
Historically, bohça were used to wrap garments or goods for transport or storage in cabinets, drawers, or chests. The square fabric covers were named based on their functions, such as "hamam bohçası" (bath bundle), "gelin bohçası" (bridal bundle), "damat bohçası" (groom bundle), "nişan bohçası" (engagement bundle), "çeyi̇z bohçası" (dowry bundle), "zarf bohça" (envelope wrapping), "bohça çanta" (carrying bag), "bebek doğdu bohçası" (baby shower bundle), "giysi bohçası" (clothes bundle), "yıkama bohçası" (laundry bundle), "mendil bohçası" (handkerchief bundle), and "çorap bohçası" (socks bundle).
Here are some examples of traditional bohça use.
HAMAM BOHÇASI - BATH BUNDLE
Turkish hammams became extremely popular in the Seljuk dynasty (1104 to 1307) and continued to be well-known in the Ottoman period (1299 to 1922). During these times, the Turkish bath (bridal bath, postpartum bath) played an important role in the social lives of Turkish women, who visited the bath once a week or during special events. While there, they could exchange gossip with other women and demonstrate their wealth and skill. Consequently, great attention was paid to the hamam bohçası, which was used to wrap belongings needed during the stay at the hammam. The traditional Turkish bath set included a towel, soap, bath glove, pumice stone, hairbrush, a copper bowl, and clothes to wear after bathing. Although hammams are still popular today, the use of hamam bohçası has declined.
GELİN BOHÇASI - BRIDAL BUNDLE
DAMAT BOHÇASI - GROOM BUNDLE
When a Turkish couple gets engaged, they receive gifts from their families. The bridal bundle (known as "gelin bohçası") and the groom bundle (known as "damat bohçası") include gifts for the bride and groom, respectively. This tradition began to address the necessities of the couple but also to allow their families to get to know each other and become closer. By buying underwear and socks, a pair of slippers and shoes, a pajama or nightgown, a bathrobe, a mirror and comb, a makeup set, cosmetic creams, perfumes, clothes, and even jewelry (the presents for the groom exclude the makeup set, of course, but instead may include cufflinks), the couple and their families demonstrate that they have learned what the bride and groom like and what sizes they wear.
NIŞAN BOHÇASI - ENGAGEMENT BUNDLE
The nişan bohçası is the engagement bundle, which includes gifts for the respective families. Traditionally, these were wrapped in a prepared nişan bohçası and exchanged by the families on a predetermined day. The contents of these bundles would vary depending on the recipient, but it was common to give items that could be used in everyday life, such as slippers, clothes, and shawls. Gifts were usually presented individually, but occasionally, presents for two siblings could be placed within one bundle.
ÇEYİZ BOHÇASI - DOWRY BUNDLE
In the Turkish wedding tradition, bohça are also essential in preserving the dowry, which includes the bride's household and kitchen utensils, like embroidered and lace covers, towels, jewelry, and clothes.
These items (mostly very valuable and not intended for everyday use) were packed into embroidered and decorated çeyi̇z bohçası that were prepared for the engagement and first displayed in the bride's home before being delivered to the groom's home the day before the wedding (in some regions, this happened after the celebration), where they were also displayed.
The actual origin of this tradition is unknown, but it has remained nearly unchanged since it began. The only slight change is that families nowadays prefer to store the Çeyi̇z Bohçası exclusively inside chests.
The bridal gown, created by the groom's side, and the groom's suit, made by the bride’s side, were also delivered to both parties' homes in decorated çeyi̇z bohçası (preferably with matching design and decoration) prior to the ceremony. The different bohça and their decorations were used to reflect the wealth of the bride’s family, thus serving as a source of pride. Since the groom's family only wrapped the bridal gown inside a çeyi̇z bohçası, they demonstrated their wealth through the gelin bohçası filled with gifts for the bride, the nişan bohçası containing gifts for her family, their contributions to the ceremony, and their house (where the newlywed couple would reside after the marriage).
ZARF BOHÇA - ENVELOPE FOR GIFTS AND VALUABLES
Like a fukusa, the zarf bohça is a neat wrapping style used for gifts or storing valuables. Embroidered fabrics are prepared by folding and wrapping them like an envelope. Sometimes they are already sewn on two or three sides similar to fukurojo-no-fukusa.
BOHÇA ÇANTA - BAG TO CARRY ITEMS
Similar to furoshiki, a bohça çanta can be used to carry products. For instance, items purchased at the grocery store or farmers' market fit well into this eco-friendly carrying bag that is adjustable to all sizes.
FOLDING AND WRAPPING STYLES FOR BOHÇA
There are different ways to fold and wrap a bohça depending on its intended use. We'll explain these in detail with the images below, but you can also visit our blog or social media channels (Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube, and Facebook) to check out our instructions and get more ideas and inspiration on how to wrap a fabric. We'll also show video tutorials on different knotting techniques if you're struggling with these names.
BOHÇA - WRAPPING FOR GIFTS AND OTHER OBJECTS
Similar to furoshiki, this method can be used to wrap anything, anywhere, without the need for scissors, sticky tape, ribbons, or even a table. The folding technique aligns closely with the yotsu musubi technique known from Japanese wrapping practice or the lotus technique known from Korean wrapping practice.
First, spread out the fabric and position the item diagonally in the middle of the fabric. The diagonal length of the bohça should be approximately three times the length of the item to be wrapped.
For rectangular objects, you will need to bring up the corners of the cloth on each side of the item's longest side and then knot the two opposing corners together with a half knot. Next, repeat the process with the remaining two corners, but this time form a granny knot or even a square knot (two half knots on top of each other) to ensure the knot stays secure and the fabric doesn't unintentionally unravel. If the item being wrapped is square, it doesn't matter which of the two opposite corners are tied together first since all the sides are of equal length.
ZARF BOHÇA - ENVELOPE FOR GIFTS AND VALUABLES
This wrapping technique can be compared to the Japanese tradition of folding kinpū fukusa (furoshiki-type fukusa) and hira tsutsumi or the Korean tradition of folding a yemulbo.
To start, spread the cloth in front of you, placing the side of the fabric that should be displayed later face down. Arrange the item on the diagonal axis of the fabric just below the middle line and fold the bottom corner upward. In case the corner of the fabric overlaps the item being wrapped, tuck the cloth behind the present to keep it from slipping out of place. Continue to fold the right side of the fabric over the gift and tuck it in if necessary. Then, do the same with the left corner. Now, fold the gift over and cover it with the remaining bit of the fabric to complete the envelope look for your present. If you wish to secure it, you can tie a ribbon around the wrapping.
BOHÇA ÇANTA - BAG TO CARRY ITEMS
The process of wrapping a bohça çanta can be compared to the Japanese folding style katakake fukuro. The procedure is essentially the same, but with the fabric turned inside out after knotting the sides.
To create a carry bag, first spread out the fabric, placing the side of the fabric that should be shown later facing upward. Then, draw the top and bottom corners together, resulting in the cloth being folded in half, forming a triangular shape.
Make two single knots in the bottom two corners of the triangle, about a quarter of the way into the cloth. Next, turn the fabric inside out while pulling the fabric to the opposite ends of the triangle. Fold the cloth over and tuck both knots into the sides. Make a square knot with the two remaining ends to form a carrying strap for your bag.
Bohça have been produced by people of all ages to keep and organize their goods in an orderly manner. However, they were primarily crafted by Turkish women who used them during engagement and wedding ceremonies, as well as for storing dowries, telling the tales of their lives, and expressing their emotions. Thus, they can be viewed as an art form.
The joys, happiness, patience, and hopes of the Turkish people, especially their young women, are beautifully captured in these covers, representing one of their most treasured cultural riches. Bohça, born out of their lives and experiences, not only look aesthetically pleasing but are also imbued with deep value and sentiment.