Fabric Shopping in Bursa: From gorgeous silk to beautiful cheap cotton
As far as I can see, there is no blog post on fabric shopping in Bursa yet – but if you are a sewist and find yourself in Istanbul or the Marmara region, I highly recommend a trip out to Bursa. Bursa is well worth a visit, not just for the shopping, by the way!
To put it in context, I spent a week in January 2022 in the Marmaris region and Istanbul. January in Germany is cold, dark, the cheer of the Christmas season evaporated… some UK travel company even declared the third Monday in January as “Blue Monday” and although it has no scientific base, there are nicer seasons here than early January with accounts depleted, cold season in full swing and afternoons dark and gloomy.
So… I try to go on a short holiday around that fabled blue Monday every year, usually pay it before the Christmas season, and go somewhere sunny. The sunny plans (Israel) didn’t work out due to a certain tiny bug and a somewhat shaky security situation, a cheap flight to Istanbul came along, and there I was.
This post will mostly be about fabric shopping in Bursa – for all other Bursa content, please check out Green Bursa: God’s Gift and Sultans Legacy and How to experience non-touristy Whirling Dervishes. Also, I was a bit too frozen and too shy to pull out my big cameras, so all these pictures are shot with a rather rubbish mobile camera.
Table of Contents
A bit of background on fabrics in Turkey
According to the International Cotton Advisory Committee, Turkey is a major cotton producer and textile manufacturer. It’s the 7th largest cotton producer worldwide. Turkey’s textile industry employs about 20% of the overall labour force and even imports more cotton to fulfil production needs. A lot of the textile production is for export, but Turkey also has some nice homegrown brands for everyday and occasional clothing. Despite this, sewing is also quite common, and every city has a decent number of fabric shops or markets.
From shiny velvets to organically grown and homespun cotton, you find it all in Turkey, but often you have to look for good fabric, even in large cities like Istanbul – hence this post. Bursa is Turkey’s fourth-largest city after Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara. While it’s too cold to grow cotton in the Marmaris region, the name Bursa is, at least in Turkey, mentioned a lot when it comes to silk. Bursa was the silk centre of Ottoman Turkey. Sericulture was established in the late Roman Empire, in varied regions including Edirne, Antakya, Izmir, Denizli and Konya. In addition, Bursa became the most important trading place for silk, from cocoons to threads, by the 16th Century, and a centre of manufacture of silk textiles as well.
By the 20th Century, cheaper imports from India and China displaced Bursa silk, even nationally, but recent years have seen a renaissance of authentic Bursa silk, and there are at least a handful of silk mills in the Bursa area today. So… if you look for quality silk, why not buy while on holiday on Turkey, and go fabric shopping in Bursa?
Fabric shopping in Bursa: What to look for when buying silk
Generally, silk shops in Bursa sell silk from Bursa as well as cheaper imports. You need to be very specific and say you want authentic Bursa silk when fabric shopping in Bursa. About 99% of the shops in the famous Koza Han sell readymade accessories from silk and sometimes wool and cashmere, so if it is silk by the metre you are after, go to Koza Han for inspiration and gift shopping only. Also note that many shops in Koza Han sell cheaper items which may well be silk, but definitely not Bursa silk. And yes, that includes items that have a label saying “Bursa silk”. Look for “100% ipek” on the care label.
Anyway, most vendors will speak some English or are very happy to pull out the Translate app. Bursa is not a mass tourism city, so I found vendors pretty genuine and helpful.
Starting at Ulu Camii and an ATM
After a bit of sightseeing, I went to get my shopping money, tried unsuccessfully at a number of different ATM, and went to Ulu Cami to calm down a bit.
After I had walked further into a bazaar, I finally found an ATM that gave me cash on my credit card. Feeling very relieved, and also very cold, I sat down in a nice local canteen for a hearty meat-free lunch.
After fuelling up and some nice hot teas, I was ready to shop! I knew of Koza Han, but that was it. And if you put “fabric shop” into a well-known online map, you get a hodgepodge of shops all over the city. So… I thought I would leave Koza Han till last.
So basically, if you walk from Ulu Mosque along Ataturk Caddesi towards the “Heykel”, the large roundabout with the Ataturk statue by it, you will see lots of little side streets crossing. A couple are filled to the brim with fabric shops – they were easy to recognise because the the rolls of fabric on display outside, even in the depth of winter. The slightly wider Gumuceken Cad. is a good one to wander along.
I had a good rummage. The fabrics on offer differ greatly in quality. As it was winter, many fleeces and warmer polyester fabrics were on offer, but also nice cottons. You can see the price, 15 Turkish Lira per metre, which was about 1 Euro at the time.
I saw a lot of good quality plain cotton in various thickness for ridiculously low prices, and also lots and lots of elastic materials.
Koza Han and silk shops
Lst not least I entered Koza Han, the historic centre of silk trading. In fact, the entire trading dome is filled to the brim with accessory shops.
Once inside, it is a generously proportioned two storeyed trading inn, with a mini mosque in the middle, surrounded by drinks stalls. Which were supe rbusy – somehow it seemed a good place for people to congregate for tea or coffee, even in the cold. Since smoking in doors is banned but smoking is very popular in Turkey, this explains why all cafe life is outside!
Moving on… some more “serious” silk shops in a small shopping centre across Gazi Orhan Park. They were even less touristy than Koza Han. Some of the patterns were really quite striking. A lot of mid-range Turkish brands like Vakko or Levi d’Or appear to use Bursa silk.
I went through quite a few shops, looking for silk by the metre. Eventually I found one that had silk by the metre. It’s called Elele Ipek. It was fairly easy to find, as it is rather large. And if you are still unsure, they also have an Instagram account!
The shop was basically full of rolls of quality fabrics – although many were fabrics for occasion wear – probably silk, but very heavily embellished. A wedding dress designer would have a great time in here.
Staff were really friendly, letting me pull silk around, rummage through their shelves – and they accepted card payments.
And with so many beautiful fabrics available, I stopped there and then, getting three large pieces of beautiful silk, drinking a coffee to warm up and stomped through the snow to my tram stop, then rested for an hour in my cosy hotel.
What I bought
Starting with the cotton mix from a random shop – a slightly odd damask fabric which is cotton with a bit of elastane – it has a slight give which will make it nice for either something slightly form-sitting or simple (no zip etc). Did I mention a lot of Turkish “everyday” fabrics contain elastane? Even every pair of “normal” jeans I bought for my husband and myself do – love the comfort, but am in two minds about man made fibres.
Ant then, three silks from Elele Ipek. I was even tempted to return the next day and buy more, but in all honesty, there is a time and a season for silk garments, and I stopped at three pieces suitable for a midi dress.
Also there is the question how ethical silk is. Silk cocoons are boiled before unravelling the thread, killing the silk moth inside the cocoon in the process. A very small percentage of silk (not Bursa silk) is so called “ahimsa” silk, meaning the silkworm is not killed. How is it done? The silk moth is allowed to hatch, breaking through much of the filament, resulting in a much smaller yield. The silk moth has a relatively short life span of 5-10 days and can usually only survive in captivity, so I am unsure what happens to hatched silk moths.
So, I enjoy this beautiful fabric, but unlike with cotton, I am aware how it is produced and stick to sustainable high quality silk that I look after and keep for years.
First up is a beautiful dark green floral thick silk fabric. It feels super smooth but doesn’t have the sheen typical for silk. I love the rather restrained floral motif which is quite large.
Next one is quite a thin but dense fabric. I absolutely love the brushstroke pattern and colour. This will look so nice with black trousers of skirt (of which I have plenty) .
Last not least, my favourite, another really thick silk fabric that drapes really lovely. And look at the pattern! It is a bit like flowing lava, in the greatest blue shades.
I was assured all the fabrics were actual Bursa silk. I paid between 12 and 15 Euro for a metre. I consider it great value given the really high quality.
Practicalities for fabric shopping in Bursa
Bursa doesn’t come to mind when talking about Turkish tourist destinations; yet it is very easy to get to Bursa from one of Istanbul’s airports.
How to get to Bursa
The transport infrastructure in the Marmara region is constantly changing with the Turkish rail system seeing massive upgrades in the area.
When I visited in 2022, I landed at Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen Airport which is ideal for moving on to Bursa. Just as you walk outside the Arrivals Terminal you see a small bus office for “BB Bus” aka “Bus Bursa” . Buses run every 30 minutes or so, just walk up and buy a ticket and you will be put on the next coach for a pleasant one-hour journey – or longer in heavy traffic that metropolitan Istanbul is notorious for.
You arrive at the out of town Bursa bus station. From here you can either take a taxi (they should use a meter) or follow the locals to the local bus stop, purchase a Bursakart at the vending machine and touch in and out of buses and trams – very convenient. The city shuttle loops around the city centre before returning back to the bus station. There is no train station, so buses and minibuses, who also depart from the Bus Station, are the best public transport.
Between Bursa and Istanbul, you now have many options. The classic route is a short minibus ride to Mudanya and a ferry to Istanbul from Mudanya. You can also go to Yalova instead for the ferry, which has an interesting little thermal resort and might be nice for a nights stopover. There are also direct buses to Istanbul Esenler Otogar (Metro is 500m away) or get a minibus to Gebze, use the new Marmaray Commuter trains from there directly to Sirkeci Station, pretty much as central as you can get. Public transport in Turkey is super cheap, and usually there will be someone who speaks some English or is willing to help.
Where I stayed
BUrsa is the fourth largest city in Türkiye after istanbul, Izmir and Ankara and an important industrial centre so it has its fair share of modern upmarket hotels. But I am not a new corporate hotel person – so I give them a wide berth usually, and picked a small hotel in the centre, easy to walk everywhere.
I stayed at the Bursa Ipekyolu Hotel, an old converted Caravanserai. Having paid around 22 Euro per room per night for a really comfy nicely decorated room with a super comfortable bed and good heating, I ahve absolutely no complaints, other than the breakfast room being a little cold. I don’t get why it gets some unfavourable review.
In the same area, you can find the small four-star Kayhan City Hotel done out in typical modern Turkish glitz in tehe public area but clean modern style in its bedrooms. Another option, in similar style at a similar price level, is B-Loft on the main road. Expect to pay about 50 to 70 Euros for a double in one of these. I like the area as it is walking distance to pretty much any central Bursa sights, there are plenty restaurants nearby and bus stop and trams less than 3 minutes walk away, yet it is fairly quiet area with not too much traffic.
Another lovely option, halfway up the hill to Tophane Park is the Kitap Evi the “House of Books” a small Boutique Hotel in an old mansion. Expect to pay 100-120 Euro per night and enjoy some lovely individually decorated suites.
Here is a little map of all places I visited or recommend as well as familiar landmarks.
The Small Print
I visited Bursa in January 2022. I paid for the entire trip, there is no sponsorship. This post contains affiliate links to Booking.com, meaning if you use one of the links to book your accommodation, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Please note that although I am aware that the official name of Turkey is now Türkiye and, I try my best to accommodate this in future posts.
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