Seeking out Turkey’s Finest Carpets

Turkish carpets are highly valued worldwide for good reason; the skill it takes to create them has been perfected over thousands of years. On a recent trip to Turkey my husband John and I caught a glimpse of the incredible craftsmanship involved. With a small group we visited a carpet-making factory famed for their top-quality work, and  watched the process, almost from start to finish, of creating these complex and stunning pieces of art. These are tourist-friendly places with charming salespeople who welcome visitors but are too savvy to apply hard pressure to buy.

Intricate designs woven in silk thread

Sentez Avanos Hali is one of several factory showrooms in the Sentez corporate group. It’s in the Cappadocia region of Anatolia/central Turkey, near the village of Avanos. The knowledgeable sales manager, Suat Cinar, led us to a room where women sat  cross-legged at looms, swiftly hand-weaving and knotting colorful designs in wool, cotton, and silk.  There are 250 looms here, Suat said, and many more in the homes of villagers, where weavers copy ancient tribal patterns. Carpet-making in this part of the world may have begun as far back as the Neolithic era, 9000 years ago, with simple flat weavings that became more complex over time. Each image, we were told, is a significant symbol of life. Flowers represent joy, stairs mean a climb toward wisdom, stylized hands on hips signify fertility. Similar carpets were part of a woman’s dowry; today they are still used in Turkish homes, but some have gone much further, winning major awards and gracing the floors of  palaces and the U.S. White House.

Award winning carpet

Tribal carpets, usually wool-on-wool, are thick, with geometric patterns. Others have elaborate scenes that look almost like paintings, and some silk weavings are so fine they’re only intended to be framed artworks. We saw one lovely silk piece that took nearly five years to make, it was so densely knotted and patterned.  The Hereke method, named after the village where it began, is the most complex because it calls for the double knot, making a more durable (and expensive) product than the single-knot technique does. Hereke silk carpets can have a million and more knots per square meter, according to our guide.

A woman at a carpet loom, hand-weaving

Properly impressed now, we headed for the silkworm room. There they were, fat white worms (actually caterpillars) behind glass, munching on mulberry leaves. The worms spin cocoons, which are soaked in a cauldron of hot water before the strong but delicate filaments are pulled and spun to become threads. One cocoon can have a half-mile of filament.  Suat showed us how the threads are dyed, using only natural materials such as marigold, indigo, chamomile and onion.

Silkworms eat only mulberry leaves

Finally we were ushered into a showroom filled with rolled carpets. One after another was spread before us, ancient and contemporary designs mingled in dazzling display. This was a fabric feast for sight and touch. We wandered and considered, found a red-and-orange carpet of simple design that was just right, bargained over cups of tea, and left with memories of carpets as rich as their long history.

 Written by Marilyn McFarlane for

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