Sunday, December 4, 2011

Exquisite Turkish Rugs

When I was a kid, my dad had a number of really beautiful and exquisite hand woven rugs where he worked. Quite honestly I do not recall which were Persian, Turkish or from elsewhere in the Orient, but I always remember how interesting they were to me. I remember my dad talking about how old and valuable they were. Childhood story book tales of 'Magic Carpet' rides were strangely fascinating to me. Some thirty years later I still have appreciation for, and a fascination with, hand woven rugs. Whenever I see one of those high end Oriental Rug stores an involuntary force makes me stop; invariably I find myself having a "mental drool" session--that is until the prices snap me back to reality.
Tree of Life design
Regular readers know I travel overseas regularly. On several visits to Turkey I had opportunities to shop for and acquire hand woven Turkish rugs for my home. Incidentally, the term "rug" usually means a floor covering smaller than the whole room and is not attached to the floor (versus a carpet which is large and usually refers to something wall to wall type covering). Anyway Turkey is full of Rug shops, all ready to sell to the unsuspecting tourist. 

If you want to buy an authentic Turkish rug, be prepared to negotiate and haggle. Don't feel badly about doing so, it is merely how business is done in that part of the world. It always starts with some offer of apple tea, or Turkish coffee, followed by lessons on how the rugs are made. Explanations of hand woven versus machine, silk versus wool, natural dyes versus synthetic, etc. And like any good salesman, they always show you the nicest, most expensive rugs first. After you hear the price you pass out, and they gradually bring a selection of rugs that may fit your budget.
Never, ever ever pay full price. Period. Depending on the time of year (late season yields better bargains) you should be able to get a rug for 30% to 40% of the original asking price. However don't engage in the bargaining process unless there is a chance you will buy. This post isn't intended to be about the bargaining process but a word to the wise...
Now, about the rugs. It all depends on what you can afford. I've seen many rugs that were exactly what I liked, but were more than I could afford. Nothing else they show you ever compares to the very best, so you just have to get it out of your mind, and allow yourself to like something else in your price range. Hand woven, silk rugs with high knots per inch and natural dyes are of the highest quality. However, hand woven wool rugs with high knots per inch can also be very very beautiful.

Look at the rugs carefully. Turn the rug upside down to inspect the back. A rug with a more complex, detailed design will have a higher number of small knots. The greater the number of hand tied knots per square inch (KPSI) means higher price. It makes sense considering the work that goes into the rug. I've read that rugs with 150 knots per square inch is average, while high quality rugs may have a knot count of 500 to as many as 2,000 per square inch.
During my most recent visit to Turkey, I went to see some local women making rugs by hand. The Turkish government is trying to maintain the skills of younger generations by providing incentives for young people to learn the trade of authentic hand weaving. I met several of these people working that day.
I saw them making silk rugs. It starts with these dry silk cocoons which were harvested from the silk worm, and dried for later use. They don't look like much at all, in fact I initially thought it was made just to fool tourists, but it is the authentic way silk is produced. 
When they begin to make a rug, the cocoons are placed in water, and then threads of fine silk are made by pulling them with a dried bunch of sticks or something. Look closely, you will see the tiny strands being pulled up from the cocoon pods in the water. It is remarkable how anyone would have ever figured this out centuries ago from something so basic in nature.
Perhaps the fact that this is basically the same process that was started back in the 13th century that fascinated me. The modern western world has my generation far removed from this kind of basic textile production, although then again I am a city kid. Anyway I digress.

The threads are pulled into a looming machine which create twisted strands of silk thread. They explained to me that silk has a very high "tensile strength" and can be twisted easily into fine strands. The thread from just one of these silk cocoons can stretch up to an amazing 82,000 feet. Remarkable, huh?  Now for the really cool part.

The women who were learning the skill of hand-knotting were developing a skill they could use to make rugs in their own home for income. In this photo, the lady is tying individual tiny hand knots on each vertical strand you see. She uses different colored thread, following a distinct pattern, working horizontally one row at a time. It is very very slow work as you can imagine.
This photo may give you a better idea. Here is another rug in production. Above the bar is a photo of the pattern the person will follow for all the hand knots. Depending on the size of the rug and the pattern, a single large rug could take 8 months to make. Again, no wonder why they are so expensive- these are not mass-produced machine made rugs.
Here is one of my Turkish rugs, which Owen seems to be quite fond of for napping in the afternoon sun. I sometimes think the pets get as much pleasure from them as I do. Not surprisingly they prefer to lounge on the rug instead of the bare tile floor. But why is it that Own insists on running to the carpet when he has a hairball? ::sigh:: Oh well, if I wanted to live in a museum I wouldn't have pets. Nothing in my home is more important than the living creatures within, even my beloved Turkish carpets.


Jean said...

Silk is such a wonderful fiber. You are correct about it's tensile strength. And it is amazing to see how they go from those dried "pods" to beautiful threads and textiles.

And yes, those rugs are meant to be enjoyed and used. That's how I was raised as well.

Judy (kenju) said...

Owen and you have very good taste! I love that rug.

Diane J Standiford said...

Wow a lost craft. Lucky cat.

lime said...

the carpets are so gorgeous and this was a terrifically informative post.

iconrugs said...

Great blog! I really enjoyed to reading this post. You have made attractive and colorful carpets and rugs. There are several couple's so cute.
Wool Rugs


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