History of carpet making
Carpet weaving has long traditions in Turkey.
Turkish carpets are of excellent quality and design and are rivalled only by Persian carpets. This page will look
at the carpet weaving tradition among the peoples of Turkey and Central Asia: how the carpets are made, what determines
their value, and some of the historical and cultural context within which this folk art has blossomed.
Carpets have traditionally been produced throughout Turkey, Persia and the Central Asian regions of Turkestan and
the Caucasus. Carpets are usually so unique that the tribe, region and village of origin can be identified without
much trouble. The designs, colors, and overall quality of the carpets can be very different. Likewise, there are
clear differences of function, design and quality between tribal, village and production center carpets. A distinction
needs to be made between a carpet and a kilim. Although both are handmade, the latter is flat woven rather than
knotted, relatively smaller and much more likely to be used in a variety of functions in the home.
Carpet weaving traditions in the area originated with the nomadic tribes of Central Asia. Nomadic carpets are woven
on portable looms, which limited the size of a carpet as well as the tightness of its weave. The main purpose was
clearly more functional than artistic. Weaving created not only carpets, but also items such as saddlebags, kilims,
wall hangings. The carpets from the Caucasus region, for example, are readily distinguished by their geometrical
designs and bold colors. The use of bold color contrast and warm primary colors can help to create a sense of warmth
a greater sense of comfort in sometimes dreary surroundings. This is especially important when considering that
the regions they live in are often cold and mountainous.
The nomadic tribes and small villages make the most traditional carpets. Their designs, like their function, are
usually fairly simple and are normally handed down through the generations, making their carpets distinctive and
relatively unique to their tribe or region. Women continue to be the weavers and in many villages carpet weaving
has social, practical and economic dimensions. Daughters are taught to weave from a very early age in hopes that
this will make them more marriageable. The Kiz carpets refer to carpets made in homes or villages by young women
of marriageable age for their grooms.
Carpets have three primary functions, one religious, another artistic and the other is purely as a home furnishing.
In general, carpets from nomadic tribes and small villages are motivated by functional considerations first, religious
uses second and artistic excellence last. This should not be taken to mean that these are inferior carpets, for
they clearly are not. Artistic excellence here is measured only in comparison to the splendid pieces produced in
the royal courts and production centers. Unlike the nomadic carpets, carpets produced in these workshops tended
more toward religious themes as well as artistic excellence.
With stationary looms much larger carpets could be woven. The most sophisticated carpets usually come from carpet
production centers. These were normally set up in cities near the royal court or trade centers, places like Konya
and Usak in Turkey or Tabriz and Shiraz in Persia. There were no recognized "carpet cities" in Turkestan
or the Caucasus. The most talented designers were obtained, the finest materials provided and the most skilled
weavers tended to concentrate in these centers. One determinant of a carpet's intricacy, and hence its value, is
the number of knots per square inch. In the major production centers these could often reach 1,000 or more knots
per square inch. Though carpets from major production centers are distinct from other styles and regions, it should
be remembered that many of these workshops existed at the pleasure of, and for the pleasure of, the monarch. Thus,
designs were often copied or adapted from other regions or tribes. Likewise, entire transformations took place
when carpets were woven in mainly western designs to please the whims of the monarch. This process is responsible
for the development of carpet weaving traditions in India and Pakistan which were brought to these lands by the
Persian-oriented Moghul emperors who copied Persian designs.
There are magnificent religious carpets in the mosques of Istanbul and throughout the Moslem world. It should be
noted that the majority of the carpet making regions are mainly moslem, though a fine example of carpet weaving
comes from Christian Armenia with its Armenian Dragon designs. Religious carpets and kilims are notable for the
arched mihrab (prayer niche) that is supposed to be pointed in the direction of Mecca during prayer. In the Moslem
tradition no form of art may portray human beings. There are also noticeable differences in the colors used in
these carpets, the much lower color contrast and much greater detail in the design. It is a high act of piety for
a Moslem to deed a carpet to a mosque. Carpets were also gifts to the sultan from village headmen and dignitaries.
Mosques are covered wall to wall by carpets, often in several layers. Carpets dating from the 13th century have
been found in Konya and several other cities throughout Turkey. It should be noted that some of the carpets in
the Sultanahmet mosque in Istanbul are over 300 years old, testament to the quality of their construction.
Carpet weaving is unlike any of the other major arts in that carpets are not generally attributed to anyone, regardless
of how exquisite they might be. Thus, while Islamic art has produced master architects and calligraphers there
are no generally acknowledged master carpet weavers. This may partly be explained by the varied skills required
in the production of a carpet. A designer first sets the final look of the carpet. Another person would mix the
animal or vegetable dyes that would be used and the the weaver would finally weave the carpet. One explanation
might be that carpet weaving is seen as less an art than a cultural tradition and thus is is taken for granted
to a greater extent than other arts.
There have been substantial changes influencing carpet weaving. There appears to be a historical cycle in which
carpet weaving seems to be flourish and then becomes less important only to flourish again when the cycle repeats
itself. The designs are unlikely to change much though the production process might. Where carpets traditionally
were dyed with animal or vegetable dyes there are now synthetic dyes available. A valid question must be if the
nomadic tribes and small villages will be able to maintain their ways of life in the face of increasing modernization,
urbanization and other factors. The carpet producing regions of Central Asia, formerly part of the Soviet Union,
are now independent republics, and a natural question is how their carpets will be affected.