“The carpet is a diary of a weaver”: how Turkish craftswomen preserve the fabric of time

A small village in the southwest of the country keeps the tradition of weaving carpets

January 26, 2023

Around the world correspondent went to the village of Etrim near Turkish Bodrum and learned that the carpets woven by local craftswomen are both a way to tell about life and life itself.

— Do you want to see our life? Then get up at six in the morning,” suggests 59-year-old Ummakhan, in whose house we settled. A cow chews her breakfast near my window while Ummakhan milks her. The clock is 5:30. The village of Etrim wakes up.

Morning in the village

At six o'clock, all the laggards are awakened by the call to morning prayer. Ummakhan and her daughter go to the kitchen—there are large families in the village, it takes a lot of time to cook. After breakfast, the children are sent to school, which is two kilometers away. And young people rush to the bus stop, to work in Bodrum.

The rest devote themselves to household chores. All day long Ummakhan will cook, clean the house and the yard, do laundry, take care of the children… But as soon as an extra minute appears, he will sit down at the loom.

Nameless streets

The streets in Etrim can be counted on the fingers. But you can't name them – they don't have names. To mark the meeting point, 300 locals have three attractions: a shop, a cafe and a spring.

The spring is called a fountain here. It is indeed very decorative. A trickle of water flows from a white stone slab taller than a man. An arch resembling a mihrab is carved in it – a semicircular niche in the wall of the mosque and a corresponding pattern on the prayer carpet.

You would not expect to see such a “fountain” in a mountainous Turkish village. It is located on the outskirts, away from prying eyes. According to local stories, for this reason lovers traditionally meet near it.

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Everything is ok

In a rustic cafe, tables are covered with carpets instead of tablecloths. “So that it doesn’t slip,” explains the owner, 37-year-old Niyazi, who inherited the business from his father, and he inherited the business from his father.

And it's also more convenient to play okay on the carpet. OK is a popular game in Turkey that is a bit like our dominoes. On the knuckles are depicted numbers from one to thirteen in four colors. You need to collect either combinations of the same numbers in different colors, or a series of consecutive numbers of the same color. Whoever is first is the winner. Losers pay for tea.

On ok days, pensioners play all the time. They play and drink tea. And in the process discuss the latest news. The cafe is, like a hundred years ago, a kind of information center, a men's club. Women do not go to the cafe.

Pay later

Opposite the cafe is the only shop in Etrim. Everything you need is sold there: household chemicals, alcohol, cigarettes and long-lasting products – something that the locals themselves do not grow and do not produce.

— You must try our Turkish chocolates, — a young saleswoman holds out a purple package behind a bulky old monitor.

— Another time, I didn’t take money with me, — I answer.

The girl smiles:

– You'll bring it later. Everyone here does this.

The saleswoman doesn't even write down the names of debtors in a notebook —everyone here knows each other.

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Carpet house

There is a mountain of shoes by the stairs: you need to take off your shoes before you set foot on the porch. It is densely covered with pile carpets. So are the steps leading up to the Bashol family home. Corresponding to the surname, which literally means “to be the first”, Mehmet 36 years ago (in 1980 — note Vokrugsveta.ru) was the first in the district to open a carpet sales center, establishing the most successful business in the village. Today, his 31-year-old son Engin continues the work started by his father.

The only thing you see when you enter the house are the carpets. They hung the walls and covered the floors of the four rooms on the first floor. They stand in rolls and lie in piles almost to the ceiling. There are about three thousand carpets in the house. I'm wondering how much the cheapest one costs.

“From $50 for a small pile carpet measuring 60 cm by a meter,” Mehmet says, and carefully lays out a silk carpet with a flower pattern on the floor. “But this one costs two thousand dollars. He is over 100 years old, we call this antique. The most expensive in the collection costs 20 thousand dollars.

– Probably, if you sell all the carpets, you can get a good job in Bodrum?

– Bodrum is expensive. Although, I think, an apartment could be bought. But I would never trade my Etrim for the hustle and bustle of the city.

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It's tobacco

– And what kind of flower is on the carpet? – I ask a local craftswoman.

– It's tobacco . We have lived off tobacco for a long time. People even came to us to earn money from other villages. When parents passed on their lands by inheritance, the son got the best on which to grow tobacco, which means to feed his family. And less fertile plots, for example, by the sea, passed into the hands of women.

– And you are not offended?

– Why be offended? It has always been so accepted in our country that a man gets more – he has to support his family. But in the end, women won: in the 1980s, the state stopped supporting the local tobacco business. And Bodrum has turned into an expensive resort. Land near the sea has risen in price, and Bodrum women have become richer than men.

Family Museum

The oldest building in Etrim is about 250 years old. This one-story stone house with wooden beams and peeling plaster resembles a museum. It belongs to the Bashol family, who keep here everything related to their ancestors one of the first settlers of the village.

“My grandfather was born in this house,” says Engin. “In those days, the whole family crowded here, and our families are large. There was nowhere to put beds, so everyone slept on the floor side by side right on the carpets.

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Good Neighbors

“You can’t force the youth to weave,” complains a 51-year-old neighbor of the Bashol family, also Ummakhan. “Previously, all the women of Etrim were busy with carpets. And today only half. Daughters do not want to spend 7–8 hours a day on carpets, because they have to do everything themselves. Husbands only help to shear the sheep in April-May. I remember that 20-25 years ago each family had 100-150 sheep. Five today is already good.

The Bashol family has no sheep at all, and Ummahan has about a dozen. A woman shares wool with neighbors, and together they spin it and dye it, weave carpets together.

In our village, neighbors are more than a family. I can go to their house at night and get some sugar if needed.

Ummahan Toker

Bashol family neighbor, 51

I have been weaving carpets since I was six years old. For 45 years she has woven about 400 pieces. I choose colors and patterns according to my mood. We use about 25 flowers in the village – we get them using natural dyes. They are much better than synthetic ones, the colors last longer. I dye the wool myself, I boil it in a pot on a fire along with various plants that we find in the area.

If red is needed, I throw in madder root. If you add a little raspberry to it and hold it in boiling water for a couple of minutes, you get an orange tint. And if you boil yarn with raspberries all day, it will turn lemon yellow. A delicate yellow tint is given by pomegranate peel, and blue – lavender. To get an olive color, I throw a bunch of sage, brown – nuts, gray – acorns. Every woman knows when to pick this or that plant in order to get the right color.

Thread of Fate

Ummakhan, Engin's mother, settles comfortably on the carpet in the middle of the yard. She takes out the sheared sheep's wool from the basket and begins combing it with a large wooden comb with long metal teeth.

“This is to remove pellets, leaves and other dirt,” the woman explains.

Ummakhan takes the cleaned wool – tow – in his left hand and pulls the thread out of it. In the right he holds a wooden spindle, spins it clockwise, like a top, and begins to wind the thread. Such yarn is thinner and stronger than machine yarn.

– This is painstaking work, – Ummakhan confirms my unspoken assumption. – Husbands joke that they definitely do not have enough patience and perseverance. But there are men who weave carpets: in some Turkish prisons, for example in the city of Sivas.


< em>Engina's mother, 59 years old

In our village, everything that is useful in the household is given for a wedding: curtains, tablecloths, pillows, bed linen, a loom. Family rugs are a must. Mothers pass them on to their children, and they pass them on to theirs, so carpets pass from generation to generation. All the carpets that I wove before the wedding went to my brothers and sisters. My father did not bless me for marriage, and I ran away with my fiancé to Bodrum, where we secretly got married. A few months later they returned to Ethrim. With the gold donated by the husband's family, they settled in the village, opened a carpet business.

If a girl disobeyed her father, he may not communicate with her until the end of her life and not let her into his house. Over time, I reconciled with my parents, they allowed me to come. But the father visited us only when his son was 20 years old. And the dowry was never given to me. I have two children, they already have children of their own. And now I'm weaving carpets for my grandchildren.

More pixels

The village's most experienced weaver, 82-year-old Gulsum, is bent over a loom that has white woolen threads stretched vertically. This is the foundation. Skeins of dyed yarn hang above the loom. Gulsum reaches for a blue thread, picks up two white threads with it and wraps it around each. The ends are cut with large scissors.

– This knot is called giordes, – says the craftswoman. – It is Turkish, it is used only here. There is also Persian. It is simpler: you also pick up two warp threads, but wrap around only one. Therefore, the Turkish knot is stronger, which means that the carpet will last longer.

Each knot is made by hand, one after the other – an average of four per centimeter. One knot & nbsp; – one point on the carpet. The more of them per square meter, the thinner the pattern and, accordingly, the more expensive the carpet. Like with a camera: more pixels  means a better picture.

Walk of Fame

The long corridor in Engin's house is covered with newspaper clippings. Articles, mostly in Turkish, talk about the star guests of the village. I recognize Michael Douglas in the photo. He visited Etrim in 1989 and even mentioned this trip in an interview with an Italian newspaper.

The actress from the series “Beverly Hills” once again visited. What is the name, the locals do not remember, they say – blonde. She wanted to buy one of Engin's three favorite carpets. Upon learning that the actress was going to lay it in the bathroom, the owner refused to sell the carpet. As a result, he fell into the “right” hands – to one American professor, who thought that the carpet spoke to him as soon as he saw him. It was an antique piece worth more than $5,000.

Engin Bashol

Etrim carpet center owner, 31

There is a story behind every carpet. And not always happy. I know a case when a local craftswoman wove a carpet in the garden. Her daughter frolicked nearby. A poisonous snake crawled up to her and stung her. The woman depicted her grief on the carpet in the form of two snakes. Having finished the work, she trampled the pattern for a long time, trying in this way to pour out her grief.

When my mother ran away with my father, my grandmother was very worried. And she wove a carpet dotted with images of tears. Unfortunately, it has not survived. Many women do not admit what they wanted to tell in their work. Often these are secrets associated with love experiences. Craftswomen express their feelings on the carpet, creating new patterns. The carpet is the weaver's diary. Today, like hundreds of years ago.

There are ornaments known throughout the village. But dealers in carpet centers do not understand anything about patterns at all. They come up with stories on the go for each buyer, taking into account what the Russian, American or Italian “pecks”. But how can a salesman who lives in a five-room apartment near the Grand Bazaar know what a woman was thinking 500 years ago when weaving a carpet in a yurt somewhere in the mountains?

Brand signature

Gyulsum shows me the carpet lying next to her. It looks like new, but the date in the right corner gives the age of 69 years. He got Gulsum from his mother. I notice a flaw on the carpet – a sharp transition from one shade of red to another. It seems that the lower part is slightly burned out.

— This is abrash,” explains Gulsum . – This effect is obtained when you dye part of the threads later. Shades may vary.

The presence of an abrash indicates that you have a handmade carpet in front of you. Another sign of it may be an irregular pattern: asymmetrical, unfinished, or woven in a different color. This is how some craftswomen also “sign” their work.


grandmother Engin, 82

I learned to weave carpets at the age of 13. In my time, it was believed that if a girl does not know how to do this, no one needs her like that. There were no schools then, and the girls stayed at home, helped their mother, cooked, cleaned and wove. And today everyone studies in schools, so they don't have time for carpets.

On my first carpet, I depicted a girl with a book. I really wanted to study, but my father did not allow me. And in the pattern I expressed my dream and sadness. I was married at the age of 17, by agreement. And this carpet went to me as a dowry. Usually, parents leave their daughter's first job as a keepsake – it is far from perfect. But our family was poor, my parents worked all the time in the fields for the owner of the village, there was no time to weave, and I received only 10 carpets as a dowry.

Usually, when a couple gets married, they receive about 40 carpets – half is given by the bride's family, half – by the groom's family. A maximum of ten will be useful in the household. The rest can be sold. Carpet only gets more valuable with age. During my life, I made about 60 pieces: for my wedding, rugs for prayer for my husband and father-in-law, and all the rest for children. I have four of them. After all, we work all our lives for the sake of children.

Foreign colors

According to Etrim legend, about a hundred years ago, a stranger began to visit the village regularly. Nobody remembers his name now. He made money by dyeing wool and selling it to the locals. The colors of the stranger were juicier and brighter than those that were obtained from the village craftswomen. They were called foreign —уaban boya.

The foreigner kept the ingredients a secret and dyed the wool in in his tent so that no one can see. This was the basis of his business. He traveled the country until the 1950s. And when he stopped visiting Etrim, the locals returned to their dyes – less bright. Therefore, carpets woven before the 1950s are strikingly different in color from later ones.

The most expensive carpets in the world

$33,765,000 — a Persian carpet with a floral pattern of the first half of the 17th century, presumably woven in the Iranian city of Kerman. In 2013, an anonymous buyer bought it at Sotheby's.

$9,600,000  – Persian carpet of the middle of the 17th century. Belonged to the French Countess de Beag. In 2009, another owner from Augsburg sold it at auction for 19,700 euros. Six months later, at the Christie's auction in London, an anonymous dealer paid 365 times more for the carpet.

$7,700,000 – Indian carpet of the late XVII  – the beginning of the XVIII century with a star ornament. One of the 12 known carpets of that period, made in the millefleur technique (from the French “thousand flowers”). Belonged to the Vanderbilt family. Bought in October 2013 at Christie’s auction in London.

$5,500,000 – “Pearl Carpet” of Baroda. It was ordered in 1865 by the Maharaja of the Indian principality of Baroda to decorate the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad in Medina. The carpet is decorated with emeralds, rubies, diamonds and pearls. It was sold at Sotheby’s auction in Doha in 2009.

$4,500,000 —a silk carpet from the Persian city of Isfahan. Presumably woven in 1600. In 2008, it was sold in New York at the Christie's auction.

Visiting the imam

The photographer and I asked the imam if it was possible to climb the minaret. He, without much enthusiasm, but allowed it. Climb up the narrow spiral staircase, collecting cobwebs. In the open area, three of us can hardly fit. From here, the village seems quite tiny. Other villages can be seen in the distance, and behind them green hills.

— Bodrum, — the imam points to West.

Having descended, he calls us to visit. Two women are cooking in the yard. Children are running around. We are treated to couscous and “Russian salad.”

—Facebook (an extremist organization banned in Russia), —says the imam, holding out his smartphone. I guess he offers to make friends on the social network.

His son runs up to us and in good English asks to add him as a friend too.

An unknown masterpiece

– This is the oldest carpet in the world, “pazyryk”, – Engin breathlessly holds out a sheet with a black-and-white printout of a photograph. – Just imagine: it is two and a half thousand years old! You have it in the Hermitage, lucky you. Everyone in Turkey knows about him. If I ever come to Russia, the first thing I will run to is a museum.

Engin would have known that the masterpiece was exhibited in the distant dark corner of the museum where tourists rarely wander. And if they wander, they pay more attention to the wagon and the mummy, which were found in the same tract of Pazyryk in Altai in 1949.

Account for knots

$150* – the average price of a wool pile carpet in a standard size (150 x 90 cm). Of these, 100 is received by the craftswoman, the rest is the intermediary. In the carpet centers of large cities, the product is already sold for $ 1,000.

A silk carpet is woven 1–4 years depending on its size and the complexity of the pattern. Craftswomen work no more than two hours a day, so as not to spoil their eyesight.

240 hours of work and the wool of five sheep, on average, goes to a pile carpet the size of a square meter.

2 seconds – this is the average time it takes a weaver to tie one knot.

To create a meter of silk carpet, you need to tie two to 10 million knots.

The minimum density of an Etrim carpet pile is 9 knotsper square centimeter, the maximum is 25. That is, there are 90-250 thousand nodes in one square meter.

* In 2016

A family member

“A familiar family sold us their family carpet to solve financial problems,” says Engin. “Two months later they returned: they wanted to buy it back for any money. But we have already sold the goods to some Englishmen. I had to contact the buyers and persuade them to sell it back. As a result, friends returned their relic, paying twice as much money. After all, this is a family carpet, it is priceless.

Bodrum, Turkey

Country Square : 783,562 km2 (36th in the world)
Population: ~84,680,000 (18th place)
Population density: 110 people/km2

Sights: in Bodrum – Halicarnassus Mausoleum (IV century BC) – one of the seven wonders of the world, Myndos Gate (IV century BC), St. Peter's Castle (XV century AD).< br>Traditional dishes: shish kebab (barbecue), isgender kebab (lamb in tomato sauce), adana kebab (minced lamb kebab, served on flatbread).
Traditional drinks: ayran, raki (aniseed vodka).
Souvenirs: carpets, pumpkin lamps, eye charms, Turkish delight.

Distance from Moscow to Bodrum ~ 2200 km (from 4 hours in flight), then 26 km to Etrim by bus
Time is the same as Moscow in summer, 1 hour behind in winter
VisaRussians do not need a visa (at the time of signing the issue)
CurrencyTurkish lira (10 TRY ~ 0.53 USD)

Photos: German Morozov

The material was published in the magazine “Vokrug sveta” No. 3, March 2016, partially updated in January 2023

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