Among the highlights of our trip to Turkey* was learning about the art of carpet weaving. Nomadic Turks developed designs and techniques and passed them along through the generations. Carpets were a perfect solution to beautify a tent-based lifestyle: when it was time to move on, carpets rolled up quickly and traveled easily. Some styles were distinctive of a region. Motifs used in weaving were like a language, each carpet telling a story the weaver might never speak aloud.
One of the most intricate and highly valued styles is Hereke — the presidential carpet. However, there are dozens of distinctively beautiful styles. Silk-on-silk is the most valuable combination; cotton and wool are also used. Hand-knotted carpets are bequeathed as treasured pieces of art, many acquiring value with time. Unfortunately, knockoffs and machine-made carpets copying these age-old patterns threaten to undermine traditional artistry.
To preserve this cultural treasure, the government has established carpet weaving schools across the country. There young people, especially girls, are trained in the art. The more skilled they become, the higher the price their carpets command. Demonstrations on site serve to educate the public. School-based showrooms serve as authentic clearinghouses for traditional designs. The finest hand-made carpets in the country are purchased for resale; reportedly, the better prices are here, compared to city storefronts. The government covers shipping costs and all duties associated with the purchase of authentic carpets in Turkey.
When I expressed interest in purchasing a carpet, Bulent extended our tour to include a stop at a Topkapi carpet center in Kusadasi. Our first event at the school was a demonstration of silk preparation. Silkworms consume mulberry leaves and then spin themselves into small white cocoons, which are harvested. Dozens of cocoons floated in a tub of water. The end thread was retrieved from each of twenty-five to thirty cocoons using a stiff brush and brisk swirling motion. These 25-30 thin filaments were spun together to create one single silk strand. We were amazed to discover the resulting thread seemed as strong and hard as a wire.
The silk skeins must be washed and dyed, processes that soften it for use in weaving. A gorgeous array of colored skeins hung along the wall. We observed several women working large vertical looms, each with a placard to detail the pattern. This was something like a large cross stitch pattern but to keep it all straight on this scale was mind boggling!
The weavers use the traditional Turkish double knot, twisting and tying each off between two warps (vertical threads), then a quick slash with a small knife to cut the ends. After a line of knots is laid in, a hand-held metal hammer is pounded across, making the weave snug and tight. Finally, scissors cut threads close. And then on to the next line. A hand-knotted rug may take a year — or three, or more — depending upon size and pattern.
Finally, we were ushered into a large showroom to view many beautiful pieces available for purchase. We sat on a bench along the far wall, sipping cold apple tea (‘Chelle) and Turkish beer (me) while carpet after carpet were revealed. The men rolled each out with fanfare; based on our reactions they brought others in that we might like. Periodically they cleared the floor and started over. We were encouraged to touch them, walk on them, and view them from every angle to appreciate the beauty of the designs. Such fun!
Many carpets were priced far beyond my budget (like the silk-on-silk beauty in blue, below left!) but that did not deter me. In the end, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to bring a small piece of Turkey home with me. When the deal was done, according to their practice, I signed a reverse corner of the carpet. The sales manager took our picture sitting on the carpet. When the carpet arrives at my home, my signature and this photograph will prove this is the carpet I selected in the showroom. I asked ‘Chelle to sign the other corner as a reminder that we shared this wonderful and eventful day in Turkey.
I can’t wait for my Hereke carpet to arrive! Now, to prepare the room. I’ve been looking for a good excuse to paint and update anyway. ;=)
*Our brief visit to Turkey was infinitely more interesting in the company of a private guide, Bulent, through Sea Song Tours. An archaeologist who worked in his early career at Ephesus, his insider’s perspective and expertise, along with deep pride in his beautiful country, made a world of difference in our experience.