Weaving Types in Turkey

Woven textiles are made by integrating two or more sets of threads in vorious ways. Woven rugs, our main concern, generally utilize thicker types of weave. Flatweaves are made to lie on the floors of houses, tents or places of worship, to hang over doors and Windows, and to cover furniture or domestic objects. Such textiles have evolved over the centuries. They are generally made of wool, goat or camel hair which is occasionally interwoven with cotton, linen, silk or metalwound yarn, or with a combination of these. There are several flatweaving techniques which can be recognized by the combination and arrangement of the threads in the weave.

Both knotted-pile and flatweaves utilize teh same basic weaving system i,n its simplest form where each horizontal thread(weft) is passed between a set of vertical threads(warp). Knotted-pile rugs have knots of extra yarn around the warp. The loose hanging ends resulting are then trimmed to give a smooth pile. Flatweaves on the other hand have no pile. They are made on a simple hand loom with one or more horizontal threads interwoven and interlocked in vorious ways with sets of warp.

The science of the flatweave technique is stil widely confused in non-weaving circles in Turkey and abroad. All flatweaves are often referred to as kilim. However, in fact, the kilim is only one of the vorious types of flatweaves. The cicim, zili and sumak are the other common weaves of Anatolia. This does not delineate the full spectrum for there are further technical variations of the kilim or weft-faced weaves but these are only known and produced in limited areas and have only local names. Other techniques such as warp-faced and double-faced weaving are not discussed here as they are not widely woven in Turkey.

Kilim ve Düz Dokuma Yaygılar(Istanbul, 1975) book divided flatweaving techniques into four distinct groups.

Two of these, the cicim and zili, had until then both been described simply as “weft float brocading.” They were recognized as being technically distinct by the weavers. In my earlier book I classified these two separately. The acceptance of the distinctions by other writers in the field and further evidence gathered from weavers in Anatolia, some of whom knew only one of the techniques and some of whom knew both and considered them very different

The most important new sub-types is a form of weave similar to the so-called verne woven in Caucasia. This is somewhat cicimlike in appearance and is often correctly called zili or sili by the weavers.(The term verne  is not generally used in Anatolia.) It is woven especially in western Anatolia using patterns different from those in the vernes woven in Caucasus. In contour zili, our nomendature fort this sub-type, like all zili types, weft floats split the warp pair in weaving.

 In the cicim or sumak the design weft is wrapped around pairs of warps, while in the zili the design weft is floated over tree warps, splitting the set or pair. The extra–weft float in zili produces a comparatively solid block of pattern over the whole field, and a single warp is left exposed between each three-span float. The three-float weft in contour zili is repeated in vertical sequence to produce contour motifs standing out on the ground weave.

A full appreciation and understanding of these flatweaves come only when one is aware of the historical, cultural and anthropological context in which they evolved, a process that stil continues. For example, flatweaves are only woven in areas where traditional life styles are unchanged and they usually are woven only fort he personal use of the weaver’s family. Traditional flat-woven rugs generally have not ben woven commercially. There are a few exceptions like the Ottomans Turkish kilims ordered by the Ottomans in the 1617th century and more recently rugs woven at weaving centers set up in the 1970’s by a semi-state organization in Umurbey near Bursa, and flatweaves now being woven for the market by a village cooperative at Karatepe in the Adana region.

The yörüks or pastoral nomads migrate seasonally in search of pastures to sustain their flocks and herds. A basic commodity fort hem is wool, and many of their customs rely on its production. Light, portable textiles, furnishings and tents of wool and goat-camel hair meet the basic needs of the nomadic condition. The Yörük homes are felt, dome-shaped tents (topak ev), squarebased black goat-hair tents (karaçadır) or half-cylindrical tents (alaçık). Cicim, zili, sumak and kilim woven bags (çuval) with colored motifs are their clothes cupboards; and cushions (yastık) and bolsters (minder) are their everyday pieces of furniture. They lay various kinds of woven rugs in their tents, spread fine cicims under the large tray used for dining and use colored-design bags and pouches (heybe) for grain and other foodstuffs. They keep kitchen implements in small woven bags (torba) ready for use; knives, spoons, Rolling-pins and such have their own torbas. All the household effects are rolled into woven packs (hurç) fort he move from place to place. In fact, almost everything necessary for a simple nomadic existence is produced by the women who assume the counterpart roles of brick-layer, carpenter an deven the metal-worker of sedentary communities.

Numerous factors have influenced both the nomadic and settled life styles. An example is the need for coverings for the home. Tradition dictated the use of cushions, bolsters and low couches for seating in the pre-Islamic home. With the advent of Islam the practice of prostration in prayer and ritual cleanliness increasedthe need for woven prayer rugs and covers o the floor.

 For many reasons the history of Turkish flatweaves is indefinitive and difficult to trace. In the section on history I have attempted to trace its early development among archaelogical finds in Central Asia, and Anatolia. But there still remains a gap of over a 1000 years between such evidence and recent historical material. Flat-woven rugs held little attraction for non-nomadic cultures until recently. One reason for the lack of historical data is that they were never considered as valuable as the knotted-pile carpet. Property inventories and inheritance lists contain few references to the kilim as a domestic item. During the 17th and 18th centuries Ottoman palace registers and some regional court records begin listing kilims among the effects of the court, and the dignitaries’houses. These may have been the floral-patterned Ottoman tent kilims woven on order, or they may have been traditional kilims.

The oldest known Turkish kilims in existence are floral-design pieces with patterns from the repertoire of 16th to 18th century Ottoman art. These we consider to be a separate group of weaves. The body of traditional Anatolian tribal kilims, flatwoven covers and rugs is quite another phenomenon. They have evolved very slowly with only gradual changes and variations in pattern. An outline of the factors in their evolution and the identification of some of the elements of change are part of the text.

 Today's Turkey embraces an area which has been the home of many cultures at various times. Here, nomadic, seminomadic and settled Moslem groups claiming genealogical links with the Oghuz clans, Türkmen, Yörüks and tribal groups with different ethnical backgrounds have sustained their traditional way of life. Consequently their weaving traditions until quite recently have also been sustained. In fact, in some cases, they continue.

 Nomadic groups were not tied to a single settlement and therefore had no fixed permanent relationships with their neighbours. They lived in small, isolated independent groups and had a comparatively recognizable tribal consciousness which they communicated to other groups they met during migration and in seasonal pasturages. Usually each group was identified by a symbolic tribal insignia or mark (damga). Tribal consciousness might have been expressed in and through their possessions, including their tents, costumes and even woven objects which displayed distinctive forms, colors and symbols. 

According to certain written accounts from the Ottoman period, it appears that a particular tribal group (boy or oymak) could be recognized by the actual appearance of its encampment, as well as by the shape of its tents. But more specifically it was the various kinds of woven fabrics they used, their rugs, door-covers, sacks, pouches, cradles and costumes which helped carry  their identity. Tribal groups also proclaimed their identity through distinctive colors and designs on the rugs, sacks and pouches in their tents and houses. The artifacts themselves were signs, perhaps proclaiming: "This is our boy or oymak, our heritage, sufficiency and lineage. This is our historical identity, we are what you see, none other.”

It is my belief that in a totally integrated tribal system, the woven products of each tribal group were themselves actually damgas. Of course the damga itself would also be woven into the weaves as an individual motif, but I feel that the total composition was also a group sign. The composition, color and use of individual motifs were characteristic of a particular tribal group. The same patterns were used generation after generation without loss of tribal meaning and with only slight idiosyncratic variations.  

 I also believe that yet unstudied documents of the Ottoman period can greatly enlighten us on tribal history. But we must also compare groups of tribal settlements and nomad encampments which have their tribal identity still intact today. We need to study the designs, colors and weaving techniques of rugs thought to have been woven by distinct groups that can be identified. This then can help us to identify the more complex rugs of segmented groups. This study can also be a way to remove the layers of doubt and misunderstandings about the modes and patterns of settlement in Anatolia.

 The tribal groups scattered about Anatolia produced an incredible variety of flat-woven products, as can be seen merely from the great number of weaving techniques that were used. As mentioned there are technically four main types of flatweaves produced in this area. No less than twenty-three sub-types and variations of these have been described here and there are undoubtedly others still to be analyzed. The variety of design and color needs little comment; it is obvious. To encounter two identical flat-woven rugs would be like chancing upon two identical grains of sand.

The pattern, technique and materials of a flat-woven rug can give us selective information about it. Some groups persistently produced one particular type of weave or one or two variations. This indicates that technique can be one of the keys to understanding tribal history. Recent developments in color analyses are also most encouraging in this respect. For example, we can now find similarities in the dyes of rugs woven by widely scattered groups, an indication that the weavers in diverse geographic areas may have come from the same parent tribal community. On the other hand through refined analyses we can now make a distinction between otherwise seemingly similar weaves. It is my conviction that clearly identifiable essential forms are still to be found among tribal groups whose way of life is traditional groups which retain an identifiable tribal form.

   But how can we begin to analyze the complex rugs produced by less traditional communities? Is not the first step to isolate the basic forms used by original tribal groups? This entails the reconstructing of a groups tribal distribution and settlement map based on Ottoman sources and information about existing tribal groups. Only then can we begin to group weaves and weavers together. It may be that present classification will prove to be either extremely broad or totally misleading. For example, we know even now that kilims attributed to western Anatolia are actually woven by groups in Gaziantep and Adana regions, groups which were relocated there from around Manisa and Aydin. Such examples and many more need extensive research.

         In the section on motif and design I have tried to expand on a theory related to the development of composition and its components in flatweaves. This is that the gradual expansion and cosmogony of design is unrelated to the development of art forms in sedentary societes. It is often said that traditional flatweaves cannot be dated earlier than the 19th century. But the evolution of flatweaves does not begin so abruptly at a given time and certainly has little relation to the other contemporary art forms. I affirm that each rug emerged and developed within the framework of a separate tribal group. It reflects this framework and origin even in later developed stylized forms.

         A recently woven flatweave may be similar to one woven centuries ago by another generation of the same tribal group with only slight variations in motif and color accenting the archetypal design. This kind of rug may indirectly reveal much of a tribal group's past, its migrational movements and its inter-relationship with other groups. I am convinced that tribal motifs on its woven pieces are the clearest, most concrete and archetypal expression of the life and meaning of a tribal group. If this is so, then by pursuing certain compositions across the design spectrum, perhaps we can gain clues which will help us trace the past of these groups and their encampment neighbors. Islamic dogma and popular heterodox taboos against figurative art influence tweave design. In the section on symbolism I suggest that these influences were combined with the influence of Central Asia and earlier Anatolian cultures to produce the unique group of Anatolian rugs. We can say for example that early symbolism reinforced the Islamic predeliction for stylized geometric forms as opposed to the figurative patterns of tapestry which developed in other areas.

        A glossary containing many of the known and locally accepted weaving terms and some regional variations accompanies the text. This is offered as an aid to the specialist and the student of flatweaves as well as to the visitor to Anatolia. Also included are explanations of some key Turkish terms to help readers who wish to follow Turkish publications on the subject. Some terms with a very limited application can be located under more general entries.

 In the list of relevant works I have included publications not only on flat weaves but also on rugs in general historical backgrounds, tribal studies and other related fields. I have attempted to list the essential primary sources including manuscripts and especially published documents about tribal groups.

         The phenomenon of the kilim and other flat-woven rugs is still very puzzling. We still lack significant information about them; in fact we are just beginning to study them. But as I try to show here, though we have only just begun to collect and evaluate the facts, it already seems inevitable that a new method of approach to the origins and development of this form of art is essential. Basic to this method is the recognition that each piece of flatweave is unique, but along with this uniqueness it possesses an internal integrity and it reflects its own peculiar history.



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