Selçuk, Turkey: Turkish Rugs

Before we get started on the last post about Turkey, just to let you know, I’ve started school again and I’m becoming very busy, so I will not be posting every Tuesday and Thursday anymore. I’ve mostly caught you up to date about my travels, so I’m going to only post on Tuesdays from now on. I really appreciate all the positive feedback I’ve been getting about the blog. I know I’m not the best writer, and most of you are just looking at the photos, but if there is anything I can improve on, let me know in the comments.

On to Turkey!

After hiking around Ephesus all day, we stopped by a rug shop near our hotel. It was run in a very similar fashion as the pottery place we visited in Göreme, the shop called itself a school, and most of the products were made by students. The owner brought in a student to show us how the carpets were made, and just like at the pottery shop, I was fascinated.

The old saying goes that in Turkey if the woman cannot make a carpet, she can’t make a home for her husband, so it is still a very traditional and intimate part of Turkish culture. Today, I’m sure a woman doesn’t actually need to know how to make a carpet though. There are two different styles of carpets, knotted and side-weave. The side woven carpets are sometimes called Kilim rugs, and as far as I can tell the knotted ones are just called knotted. The kilim carpets have a flatter feel and are simpler patterns, while the knotted carpets are the fuzzy carpets that most people think of when you think of an oriental rug.

Top: knotted carpet. Bottom: Kilim carpet.

The kilim carpets are more traditionally from Eastern Turkey, and are created by weaving yarn around the strings of a carpet on a loom. The yarn is mostly wool, but I believe that is can be cotton.

The knotted carpets are more complicated. Each color is knotted around the strings on the loom, and then later trimmed. This is what gives the carpet it’s fuzzy texture. In addition to wool and cotton, the knotted carpets can be made out of silk. Cotton rugs have a smooth silk-like texture, but are cheaper, while the wool carpets are slightly rougher. Silk rugs are more expensive because the thread makes smaller knots, meaning that it takes longer to weave the rugs.

This particular shop also made its own thread, and so we were able to see how silk string was made. Silk worms make themselves a cocoon, which are then picked and put into hot water. The water kills the worm, but also makes the thread easier to separate. A twig brush is used to snag the silk threads of the cocoon, which are then brought up to a spinner. Five silk strings (cocoons) are woven together to form one thread. One cocoon can make about 2.5 km of thread. In order to dye the silk thread, chemical dye has to be used, but for the cotton and wool yarn, natural dyes can be used.

The camera had a hard time focusing on the threads. You can just see them though.

After showing us how the different carpets and silk thread were made, Bev started to ask more about the women-students who worked at the school. The owner of the shop tried to frame it in a positive way, saying that by teaching the women to make carpets, they are allowing them to become more independent. They are providing a means for making their own income separate from their husbands. The women work extremely hard, as they only work on rugs after they have spent the day caring for their children, doing laundry, tending the fields, or what have you. The students earn based on the square meterage of the carpets they weave. For the knotted carpets, the women make 300 Lyra for 1 square meter of a wool carpet, and 2000 Lyra for 1 meter of a silk carpet (1Lyra is about .50 USD). For one meter of the wool carpet, it takes about 6 weeks to weave (though not 8 hour days remember). The school provides them with materials and teaches them different weave styles, traditional patterns, and different dying techniques. It takes the women about three months to learn everything.


After telling us all this the owner spent about an hour and a half trying to sell us a rug. Jeff and I managed to escape after 45 minutes, claiming we were both students who couldn’t afford even the smallest of rugs. Later we went back to our hotel and chatted with our host about the experience. He said that the school was definitely not paying the women that much, and that the rugs were certainly overpriced since we were foreigners. Overall it was an interesting experience, and we learned loads about the Turkish tradition of carpet weaving.

The red rug on top is a traditional pattern meant for people who practice Islam. The point in the pattern is pointed towards Mecca, and the rug is used for their daily prayers.

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