During the Ottoman Empire, the economy was largely based on textile production and trade, which the rulers subsidized and regulated. Carpets, silks, cottons, and other luxury goods comprised the wealth of commodities that through trade, mainly with Europe, led to the maintenance of a healthy economy during the Ottoman Empire. Women played an extremely important role in this textile economy, and the outlet they found in embriodery and cloth spinning allowed for an undeniable amount of power and financial independance in a world dominated by men.
One significant aspect of the Ottoman textile industry involving women was embroidery, both domestic and in workshops. Most of the embroidery in the empire came from the Imperial Harem and other harems of high officials, from the workshops and factories, and from domestic women working independantly in their homes. The latter group was the largest and produced the most unique and intricate works, with a widespread reputation for excellence. Ottoman women in the city centers, confined to their homes by social convention, used embroidery mainly to pass the time, but the beautiful pieces they produced became a source of income as well, thereby allowing them some financial independance. Because these women were often working individually and could support themselves, they actually had the authority and respect to be able to refuse commissions if they so wished, even from the Imperial Palace.
The skill of embroidery was a major part of the education of young girls in the Ottoman Empire, and as these girls grew and became more adept at their work, they could set up small informal schools to teach younger girls embroidery. This was another way for women to support themselves and be productive in society, properly bringing up the young women and providing a new generation of expert embroiderers. In addition to embroidering, this practice of gathering together provided a social outlet, which allowed them to socialize, gossip, and take tea. Women were not involved simply with embroidery, but also with spinning cotton cloth used both in trade and in their own homes for headscarves, bed linens, towels, and clothes. They invested much time and effort in creating these garments, and thus took great pride in their appearance, using clothing to identify themselves within their society by class and religion. Because women were the ones embroidering the majority of the clothes, they had a direct influence on the fashions of the day. Due to active trade with Europe, many European influences in Ottoman fashion began in the 1700's; there are many accounts of these interactions in traveler's journals and letters. The basic uniform of loose pants (salvar), a loose shirt (gomelek), and robes (entari) started to see European touches of lace collars and cuffs, and would be accessorized with gloves, buttons, and parasols. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, the wife of the English ambassador to Turkey, spent two years in Turkey in the early 1700's, and during her stay wrote many letters decribing the clothing and habits of Turkish women:
"The first piece of my dresse is a pair of drawers, very full, that reach to my shoes and conceal the legs...They are of a thin rose colour damask brocaded with silver flowers, my shoes of white kid Leather embrodier'd with Gold. Over this hangs my Smock of a fine white silk Gause edg'd with Emroidery...The Antery is a wastcoat made close to the shape, of white and Gold damask, with very long sleeves....My Caftan of the same stuff with my Drawers is a robe exactly fited to my shape and reaching my feet..." (Halsband 326).
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu in Turkish Dress.