The Pilgrimage, Turkey, Part Nineteen

While it may boggle the mind of Americans, the Turkish government believes in supporting its important historic industries, for instance the Turkish carpet industry. While many countries in the Middle East have carpet makers, none have the quality and continuous heritage of making carpets that Turkey does. The problem is not mechanization, the problem is recruitment in this industry, because making handwoven carpets requires, thin, nimble, quick, mostly young fingers, and nowadays, most young girls (much less boys) in Turkey do not want to give their youth to sitting endless in front of looms making carpets. And like any sort of artisan work, there are skills, a craft that need to be passed down, there needs to be an apprentice situation. It takes time and hundreds of man-hours to make a good carpet, especially a silk one.

So it is that carpet factories like Carpetium that we visited near Kushadasi need help, government subsidies to keep the industry going and to provide enough financial incentive to make young people want to be a part of the industry. Americans really have no clue what it takes to make a large hand-woven silk carpet, say one that could go in your living room.

We are talking: 1) a whole year’s worth of weaving for a start, at a minimum; 2) and even if the carpet was priced by the man-hours of labor and with no profit, a fair market price could still run in the thousands of U.S. dollars depending on the design (for instance the Hereke design). In short, if you have to ask the price for that kind of quality, you probably can’t afford it. Better to go with a cotton or wool carpet, like the carpet in my office.

The real problem when Americans come to Turkey is Americans want quality goods, but they don’t want to have to pay a fair price for it. They want quality on the cheap, and what that whole approach has done to various indigenous industries back home in America is ruin them. I come from High Point N.C. Growing up we had forty thriving furniture factories in High Point. Today there is barely one, even though the furniture market is still there in the Fall. Why? Because the labor overseas is much cheaper. And so the artisanship in America has largely been lost, the skill has been lost, with rare exception, the Mom and Pop businesses have largely shut down. Not so in Turkey, thank goodness. Enough sermonizing for now. Let’s look at carpets…. and did I mention carpets.






There are even flying carpets (and if he loses his day job this guy could work for our pizza parlor)

And even Pope approved carpets…

And if carpets are not your thing, they also have beautiful hand woven pashminas, some made out of cashmere wool…

Carpets can be broken down into two categories– decorative, usually wall hangings which are mostly small (and they are usually silk, because you can do detailed pictures with the thin threads of silk) and functional floor carpets. I’ve shown you some of both. You get an education about how silk carpets are made when you tour one of these factories. So let’s start with an aphorism…

You see silk worms are really picky eaters…. they only want mulberry leaves…

And then they spin these little cocoons… which you need to collect, and boil…

And then you sort of take a whisk brush and snag a few of them and they begin to unravel into a gossamer thin thread…

And then you sort of shake it out, and wind it up on the loom…

Behold three weavers. You get to guess: 1) which one is making a silk carpet in the tree of life design; 2) which one is making a wool carpet, and 3) which one is Elaine, Ann’s sister…. having a go.



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