Notes on Turkish Carpet Weavers
Our host introduces her, but I don’t remember her name. She doesn’t pause to crack a smile or to look up from work. Indeed, she’s very busy – busy making a living. As she works in silence, slightly hunched over, he tells us a bit about her and the other women like her that work in this factory. How they commute here from their villages each day to earn a living making the rugs that her people pray and rest on and those that sit neatly beneath our coffee tables in our American homes. He explains that if she wasn’t weaving for a living, tradition would nevertheless require her to learn this art as rural Turkish girls are taught to weave in order to make gifts for their dowries.
Without missing a beat, she continues her weaving demonstration. Her loom is full of colorful threads which are slowly taking shape to match the pattern she’s created from the design she has tucked away in her memory. Some of these designs have been passed down from generations of rug weavers before her while others are customized to buyers’ tastes.
Carefully and quickly, she weaves the threads in double knots, a method that’s been passed down to Turkish carpet weavers like her since the 4th century BC. Ensuring the rug’s durability, she continues to double the knots, continuously wrapping each end of the thread around the two warps, pulling down, and cutting as she goes. As she works, our host explains that the quality of these carpets surpasses that of Persian carpets whose weavers only use a single knot.
There’s another weaver on duty today who’s been silently watching from the sidelines. Our host introduces her and explains that her job is to harvest the silk used to make silk-on-silk rugs – silk threads on silk warp and weft. With a possible knot density of 28×28 knots per square centimeter, it doesn’t come as a surprise that these rugs are the most expensive. Heaven forbid if you walk or sit on these rugs – they should only be used as wall or pillow tapestries!
Although it seems impossible from the look of it, a single cocoon can produce 2,000-3,000 feet of silk thread. Silkworms spin cocoons of silk and wait inside for several weeks in hopes of metamorphosing into moths. But Turkish carpet weavers halt the transformation by steaming the cocoons followed by a soak in a water vat.
Afterward, the silk harvester uses a special brush to tease the threads from each cocoon and attaches them to a spinning wheel that unravels the silk from the casing. Once separated, the silk is twisted and dyed before it’s used for weaving.
Soon enough, we are led down a dimly lit hallway that’s lined with and layered in carpets. We enter a room covered in wall tapestries and notice pile-upon-pile of rolled carpets in the opposite corner.
After welcoming us with tea, our host and his men begin a song and dance of displaying the rugs, hopeful that their rugs will make an impression that will lead to a sale. As heavy carpets are unrolled one-by-one on the floor before us, the otherwise quiet room comes alive with a cacophony of our “oohs and aahs”.
Rug-after-rug, pattern-after-pattern – the options are seemingly infinite.
One in particular catches my eye. Its bright design of gold, blues, and reds tugs at my heart strings. Our host explains that this is a dowry rug, but if I were a Turkish bride-to-be, there’s no way that I’d want to part with this masterpiece.
Although I want it, I don’t bother to ask the cost of the dowry rug because I know it far exceeds our souvenir budget. Plus, after just witnessing the level of intricacy and detail that goes into weaving these carpets, this isn’t the occasion to start negotiating with a low ball amount. To do so would be completely insulting.
Someone in our group with the means to shell out thousands of dollars on one of these carpets is making arrangements to have it shipped back to the States. It’s sure to make for good dinner conversation when he has guests over.
As we wait for the transaction to wrap up, my thoughts shift back to the women – the masters of this Turkish artistry and the true captains of this carpet-weaving ship. While the Turkish men get the glory for making the sale, the women continue their work – silk harvesting and weaving. Quietly.
I wish that I could remember their names.