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SHOPPING FOR TURKISH CARPETS IN SELCUK RUG FACTORY

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Turkish carpets
Turkish carpets
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Ephesus tours often stop at a carpet co-operative in Selçuk only four kilometers from the ancient city. Before we visited the rug factory, our guide Dilek explained why carpets are so important to Turkish people.

"Turkey is located on two continents, 3% in Europe and the rest in Asia," she said. "Do you know why Turkish people call the peninsula Anatolia, which means Motherland, rather than Asia Minor?"

Answering her own question, she said: "It's because our ancestors traveled here as nomadic tribes from Mongolia and China. They brought their custom of weaving rugs with them."

What is the oldest Turkish carpet?

"All through history we've woven rugs for tents, to cover horses and for dowries. The oldest carpet in the world is 2,500 years old," she explained.

"It was discovered in a tomb in the Altai mountains of Siberia. You can see it in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia."

Weaving carpet on a loom
Weaving carpet on a loom
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Weaving on looms

Dilek has vivid memories of her mother and grandmother weaving. "I recall my mother and aunties sitting side-by-side, weaving big carpets at large looms and small carpets on little looms. When we moved to a big town, my mother stopped weaving because there were more job opportunities for women there."

Even though carpet-weaving is a dying tradition in Turkey, a carpet is an essential component of a modern bride's dowry. "My grandmother insisted that I add a carpet to the embroidered scarves and table runners in my dowry when I got married," said Dilek.

Bridal dowries include carpets
Bridal dowries include carpets
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Brides' dowries

"She gave me a 30-year-old carpet that looked like new and told me that the more that I stepped on it, the more value I would add to it." (The normal lifespan of a handmade carpet is 300 years.)

According to tradition, two days before a Turkish wedding, the groom's family must travel to the bride's home by horse and carriage to receive the dowry.

"Nowadays, they drive there," said Dilek. "As the bride shows off items in the dowry, neighbors come over to watch."

Tax-free Turkish rugs

With Dilek, we visited a government-sponsored weaving co-operative created to pass on the craft of weaving to young women and encourage them to become entrepreneurs. "The price and quality are good here, but you are under no obligation to buy carpets," she said.

"If you want to buy, remember that bargaining is a tradition here. I can help you if you prefer. If the carpet is too big for you to carry home, don't worry."

She explained that the Turkish government pays the shipping costs to support carpet-weaving in the country. Delivery takes eight-to-twelve weeks. The carpets are also tax-free.

Raw and boiled silk cocoons
Raw and boiled silk cocoons
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Making silk thread from cocoons

Dilek introduced us to Mr. Hakan who showed us a bowl of silk cocoons. "Turkey is number two in the world for silk production," he said.

"The average cocoon contains 1.5 kilometers of silk fiber in a single thread, but if you try to pull it out, you'll break it."

He showed us a centuries-old method of extracting the thread. After boiling the cocoons in a large metal bowl to soften them, he used a handmade brush to pick up the threads. He then attached the fibers to a wooden spinning wheel that spun them into silk thread.

Mr. Hakan picks up silk threads with a brush
Mr. Hakan picks up silk threads with a brush
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"China uses male silkworm cocoons, but Turkey uses cocoons from female worms because their silk is whiter," he noted.

How to weave a Turkish carpet

As we watched a young lady follow a pattern attached to a small loom, Mr. Hakan explained that Turkish carpets use a Gordian or double-knot system.

After the weaver puts two knots around the warp and weave, she uses a comb-like device to tighten them and keep the pile up.

"After each row, she trims the pile with a double-handled pair of scissors," explained Mr. Hakan. "You can't trim it properly with regular scissors."

Shopping for carpets

We entered a room with large carpets hanging from the walls. As we sat on padded benches, staff offered us and other visitors glasses of green apple tea.

Shopping for Turkish rugs
Shopping for Turkish rugs
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Other staff members unfurled roll-after-roll of carpets, stacking them on top of each other. Our heads spun with the dazzling variety of colors, sizes and patterns. We later learned that they were only a small selection of the 6,000 carpets in their showrooms.

Silk vs wool rugs

Mr. Hakan noted that carpets can be made from wool, cotton, silk or a combination of fibers. We asked why silk carpets are so expensive.

Viewing stacks of Turkish carpets
Viewing stacks of Turkish carpets
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"Silk is not expensive," he replied. "A wool carpet that is ten times the size of a silk one will be the same price because the yarn is thicker, so it takes less time to weave."

"Because silk thread is so fine, the carpet requires more knots and more weaving time. If the weaver works five hours per day and five days per week, it will take her seven months to make a carpet that is two feet long and 1-1/2 feet wide."

Mr. Hakan gave us a final piece of advice: "Don't think that silk carpets are better quality and wool carpets are low quality. The major difference is that silk carpets have intricate designs because they are made from finer threads."

Differences between handmade & machine-made carpets

"We sell both machine-made and handmade carpets here," said Mr. Hakan. "Do you know how to tell them apart?"

He folded over a corner on a handmade carpet and explained: "You can't fold the corner on a machine-made carpet. Equipment inserts threads through holes in their synthetic bases."

Rotating a small carpet around like pizza dough, he showed us how the colors changed, depending on the nap and the direction of the light.

Walking barefoot on carpet
Walking barefoot on carpet
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"Take off your shoes and walk on the carpets with your bare feet to feel the differences between them. Notice how the colors and patterns change as you walk around."

Symbols woven into carpets
Symbols woven into carpets
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

What do the symbols in carpets mean?

A savvy salesman approached us and asked: "Which one do you like the best? What size do you need? Perhaps you want just a little carpet?"

When we replied that they were all beautiful, but we weren't interested in buying anything, he switched from selling to educational mode.

Pointing to one carpet, he explained how the motifs told stories from the book 1,001 Arabian Nights. On other carpets, he deciphered symbols, such as a bird in flight.

"It indicates the arrival of good news," he said. "And this sheaf of grain represents abundance."

His enthusiasm soon influenced the way we regarded Turkish carpets. We started looking at them as woven storybooks, rather than just ornamental floor and wall coverings.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Turkish Office of Culture & Tourism in Canada: www.turkeytourism.ca

Turkish Airlines flies to Izmir via Istanbul. Visit www.turkishairlines.com for details. You can rent a car in Izmir and drive south for 1.5 hours to Kuşadasi or take one of the coaches that travel several times daily between the two cities.

More things to see & do in Turkey:

What to See, Eat and Buy in Kusadasi Turkey

Celestyal Cruises Free Ephesus Shore Excursions

Christmas in Bodrum Turkey