belgeseLAB Curiously Presents


Photo-Interview: Esra Korur Bal
Story: Malika Browne
Arabic-English Translation: Mohamad Issa
Project Editor: Altan Bal 

The first you’ll see when you enter the social media webpages of Knitstanbul (click to enter) are knitted children clothes. from trowsers, pullowers to caps and gloves. A range of wonderful children clothes are brought to you attention. When you look a bit closer you’ll see a sentence which arouses your interest: ‘Made in Istanbul by Syrian Ladies’.

When you follow your interest, you’ll find the real story of real people on 2 continents and 5 different countries. The story tells of war, forced migration, solidarity and the struggle for life.

The impresive story of Knitstanbul goes back to 2008 when the British Citizen Malika Browne lived work related in Damascus. At that time the Civil War didn’t break out and according to data from 2016, 400.000 people didn’t die.

Far away from democracy a one man regime was ruling the country.

After a few years Malika moved from Syria to Istanbul and started to live there. A short time after Malika left Syria the Civil War broke out. Thousands of people risk their lives on the way to Europe. The Syrians who are lucky and survive start to live in very hard conditions in the countries they arrive. Malika who lived a long time in Damascus was looking for a way to help her Syrian neighbours who fond shelter in Istanbul.

Before passing the word over to Malika Browne, the founder of Knitstanbul, we would like to invite you to visit the social media webpages and shop from Knitstanbul.
By buying clothes from Knitstanbul you’d support the Syrian women.

"I began this project in Istanbul after my son was born here in the autumn. I had had a baby in Damascus in 2008, and I still had some of the knitwear that my neighbours had made for him. These pieces of knitwear suddenly became infused with ridiculous amounts of sentimentality now that there was a brutal war in Syria. I decided to try and set up a small project with products that I could sell right away. It was important to me that the women receive a decent amount of money for each piece, and that I should pay for it as soon as they handed it over. The marketing and selling part was, and remains, my domain. I love being able to give the women cash and to know that for some of them, it’s the first money they’ve earned. Most of them are here without their husbands, and I have noticed a real blossoming in many of them as they gain in confidence in this new city where they do not speak the language."

When I look through pictures of Knitstanbul meetings, which we hold once a fortnight in a community centre for Syrians, I see precious details that I had forgotten. Each meeting lasts a very intense two hours during which there is so much happening, and there are so many questions and new things to think about, that I don’t really have time to enjoy them at the time. It’s only later that I appreciate the things people have said to me during the meeting, or the details in the pictures that I would like to remember forever, like who is talking to who, who is helping who measure something.

This is a very small project but it is growing all the time, and the knitters come and go. I think knitting for them is something they can do to relax, they can do it while talking to their children and other relatives, and they can do it in a small space. Refugees have very little space, few possessions, a lot of time and a lot of stress. Hopefully, each stitch they knit can take them a step nearer a more settled life.

When I look at these pictures, I see pieces of knitwear in the ladies’ hands, and for some pieces I immediately think “Oh, that sweater has gone to the Netherlands”, or “That is the hat I sent to the English countryside the other day.” Each piece of knitwear, like each knitter, has a journey behind or ahead of it: Istanbul is just a place of transit. In some photographs I see ladies who have worked with us, who have now left Turkey, and I think of where they might be now. I know that some of them are stuck in camps on the border in Greece, while others have made it safely to Sweden and Germany. They usually let us know when they have made it safely. It must feel strange to them sometimes to know that the knitwear they were handling just a few weeks before, made the journey to Europe so much more easily!

Each knitter has different skills and styles. One of our ladies turned out to be very good at crocheting mermaid’s tails and sharks, for kids to snuggle up in and wear while watching TV. Other knitters are good at small items of clothing with tight, neat stitching. I always give out the designs and the wool and I am strict about what the knitters make, so that we have a consistent look. We only use 100% Turkish wool or cotton, so that customers know what they are getting is totally natural. Only once or twice have I had knitting that isn’t up to our standard, and instead of telling the lady, I had to ask someone else to unravel it without her knowing.

I love it when I see that the knitters - who are all from totally different parts of Syria, and from different walks of life - become friends, and enjoy meeting up at our gatherings. They help each other, they exchange tips and advice on knitting, and they have strong views on colour! I am not a knitter, and wouldn’t even know where to start, so I admire anyone who can make something so complicated. They love to see pictures of the knitwear being worn so we encourage customers to post pictures on Facebook when they receive them.

By buying clothes from Knitstanbul you would buy 100% wool knitwear for your children and also support Syrian refugee women.: