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Artisans: And Then There Were Rugs: A Shopping Adventure in Cappadocia

We wander down a curved road, past fairy chimneys and surrounded by the rugged yet smooth mountains, to the Gallery Cappadocia. Turkish rugs are on display outside, a few men chat off under a tree, having a tea and a cigarette. We say merhaba, and inquire if they are open. We are escorted through giant, carved, wooden doors and into a room that changes everything.

Before us sit eight women on low, pillowed stools. They are dressed comfortably, with stripes and patterns calling out. They all wear headscarves. Tea cups sit beside each stool, they chat and gossip amongst one another. Before each of them is a loom; wide complicated looms with vividly colored skeins of braided yarn hanging from the tops, white threads upon which the rug will be knotted hang tautly from top to bottom, numbering in the hundreds. At the base of each loom is the first steps of a Turkish, handmade rug, coming to fruition one knot at a time. We have entered through the back door, startling these women out of their daily routine, reminding them that their craft is worthy of praise and photography.

Weavers of Turkish Rugs, Julia Frost photo credit

The owner of the shop, Sadi, meets us in the weaving room. He can tell by our gaping mouths that we were not expecting to see these women at work. While we adjust to the shock of seeing the weavers at the looms, he describes their craft. They train to weave these rugs their entire lives. They begin to learn very young, for they will weave a rug for their wedding. This rug is an investment and an asset, providing a both a financial foothold for the new couple and something to sell, should they ever need the money. This rug is also a wish list, for it offers the weaver the chance to put children, good fortune, a strong husband, and anything else in their cards. Sadi describes the difference between the yarns that are used—wool, cotton, silk— and shows us the difference it makes in a carpet’s appearance. He describes the double stitch that makes Turkish handmade rugs appreciate with age: demonstrating with a string wound around his fingers, he shows how the knot winds around the cotton base (he shows two strands with two fingers), ends coming through the center to be exposed as the color and weave in the pile of the rug. As traffic over the rug occurs over time, the knot is tightened by the friction and pull of steps over the exposed ends. The outcome is a stronger rug with more vibrant color as the years pass by. These rugs, Sadi says, will increase in worth as they age.

Rug in Process, Julia Frost photo

Trimming after each row, Julia Frost photo

He welcomes us further into the building, hall after hall and room after room, filled to the rafters with rolls and stacks of rugs. He shows us bags for draping over donkeys and camels, pillowcases, runners, throw rugs and tapestries. Each carpet that is unrolled is increasingly impressive. Sadi begins to have fun. He has two of his employees running from room to room collecting more intricate and worthy rugs for our viewing pleasure. We ask Sadi about his business, wondering just how big this operation is. He has 35 employees, more in the high season, and pays livable wages, thanks to subsidies from the government to support their handmade, artisanal craft. This thereby ensures that this historical and unique, creative knowledge will be passed down from each generation forward, something that we found quite telling of the Turkish government’s values.

Carpet Heaven. Julia Frost photo.

He unrolls rugs seen in movies (The King’s Speech used one just like his), and rugs whose design was destroyed after the rug was completed, ensuring that only one rug of it’s kind will ever be made. Rugs given as gifts from Turkey to other countries, rugs commissioned by royalty, rugs that are transparent when put up to the light (pure white silk is completely see-through). We see kilims, tribal rugs, Noah’s Ark inspired, geometric, and floral motifs. We see bright colors, muted colors, and the most beautiful carpets we’ve ever seen. Sadi describes the vegetable and plant dyes used to create the colors: tobacco, saffron, walnut husks, indigo, chamomile, onion skins, sumac, and beets, and even cochineal beetles for the deepest red dye.

"The most beautiful carpet you will ever see" we are told... Julia Frost photo

Mind-blowing intricacy, Julia Frost photo

We become more enamored of this process. Tea is offered, we accept. My friend is the first to take her shoes off, wanting to feel these rugs more intimately beneath her socked feet. I feverishly write notes, not wanting to miss a word of Sadi’s explanations. We photograph like we’re doing a magazine spread. I have a moment, realizing that if I gave him my preferences and price range, that I may buy a rug today. But I needn’t offer that information, he is reading my mind. He puts aside the one-of-a-kinds, realizing that he has a waitress and a caterer looking at his inventory, and shows us smaller rugs. He brings out old and new, tribal and floral, and begins telling us prices. We sip our tea, squat to touch the softness of the rugs, try not to gasp as beautiful pieces change color in the light. We are unsuccessful.There are 50 rugs laying before us.

I'm getting serious, now. And taking notes. Julia Frost photo.

My friend nearly buys a rug that would live in a dining room (once she has one…) for the rest of her life. I nearly buy one that has beautiful blues, reds and a tribal motif that includes rivers, camels and staircases to heaven and hell.  But then the game changer arrives. The helper, rug in hand, enters the room smirking. I can tell the air has changed. With a slightly dramatic gesture, he unrolls and then holds up the rug for me to see. He picks up one corner, lifts it deftly with his right hand up and then flicks it to the right, sending the rug flying horizontally into the air and turning it 180*. Like the flip of the rug, I experience a flip of my belly, get the chills, and know that I’m going home with a Turkish rug. My shoes come off, I step on to the carpet, accept a second tea, and shake Sadi’s hand.

Tea, an essential part of the process. Julia Frost photo.

My friend is more conflicted than me. She wants four of the rugs and can only buy one. Her process involves a less visceral reaction and a lot more talking through it. She justifies, and then retreats, from high prices. She wants something for the dining room, but then wants it next to her bed. She loves the bright colors, but keeps going back to the muted ones. Then, Sadi calls for one more rug, and when it is unrolled for her, the others seem to wash away. Her socked feet are on it in seconds, and there is no more deliberating. We’ve just gone on an innocent walk today, happened upon a rug weaving gallery, and now, we’ve made the type of investment most people make only after much thought, research and planning.

My rug, approximately 30to 40 years old, shines vibrantly in the light. The designs on it are likely from an eighth century nomadic tribe from the Antalya region in southern, coastal Turkey. It is made with wool from only the neck hair of sheep.  The design includes symbols that speak to the priorities and beliefs of the tribe. Camels line the border, representing transportation, endurance, wealth and good fortune, eagles sit in the corners for freedom, stairs up to heaven and down to hell. Rams horns for masculinity and virility, and if read another way, the horns turn to female arms akimbo for female strength. Three leaves represent the offspring from their union, arrows for more fertility, scorpions to protect from their sting, and the famed Turkish evil eyes.

The game changer. I was done for. Julia Frost photo.

The evil eye, a glass souvenir now synonymous with travel gifts from Turkey, are among the oldest symbols in the region. My rug, which has five evil eyes repeated over and over again, was originally described to me as five prayer mats, representing the five prayers Muslim’s make each day, a description that I loved. However, these designs predate (or coincide too closely with) the birth of Islam, and the likelihood of rites and practices of a new religion making their way symbolically to nomadic rugs is nil. This proves then that my rug has evil eyes all over it, not prayer mats. The legend surrounding Evil Eyes is that they ward off naysayers and their bad mojo; my friends described it as if you are happy, beautiful or having a string of good luck, someone with a jealous disposition may comment on it, causing your luck to change. If you are protected by an Evil Eye, your good fortune is safe, if unprotected, your luck disappears. So, needless to say, with 200 evil eyes on my rug, I’ve got my luck covered.

There are four layers of the evil eye. In the very center, a tiny black dot represents the evil. Surrounding that is a turquoise circle of sincerity, then a larger ring of white for innocence, then the largest ring, the one that encompasses the whole, is a dark blue, symbolizing the divine. Religious intonations aside, I love that for centuries the Turkish people have been warding off evil by suffocating it under virtues. And to see the evil eye glass in each house, each café and restaurant, one can easily see that this is not a tourist trap, it is a true, ancient, original belief that defies the ages. Now, I too have protection and a piece of a beautiful ritual to forever remind me of this moment.

And then there were rugs. Julia Frost photo.

After signing the back of our rugs, we leave the Gallery Cappadocia, astonished at our brashness in purchasing but trusting in our decisiveness. In six to eight weeks we’ll have our rugs back in Massachusetts, but in the meantime, we sip a tea and come down from the rush of such an experience.

Gallery Cappadocia

Gaferli Mah. 50180 Göreme, Nevşehir, Türkiye.

http://gallerycappadocia.com/

Editor's Note: Have a question or comment? Leave a message in the comments below.

Lauren BellLauren's interest in travel and food started young; she spent her childhood dreaming of living abroad, speaking foreign languages, and discovering the food of other places. While she's spent her time working toward attaining those goals, she has also gotten properly distracted at home in the US. She's lived all over California and New England: seeking out small farms, delicious eateries, and creative chefs and artists. She's enamored of all things artisanally made- be it food, wine, art, crafts...anything small scale, by hand and with love. She's the artisanal admirer. In an effort to emulate her talented friends, she has learned to make cheese, ran an urban, edible schoolyard garden, cooks, cans, and bakes pies. She dreams daily of moving to Europe to do the same there. Until then, she travels frequently, at home and abroad, works as a pastry chef, sells wine and cheese, and helps run a farm-to-table restaurant. She lives in Brooklyn with her Siamese cat, Henry.

  • Loie M.

    Our experience at the Gallery was nearly identical. We knew walking in we would buy a carpet, but down to two choices, one of which I preferred and the other, my husband. We bought them both, love them and treasure them. Mine is by my side of the bed so that my bare feet touch them first every morning!

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