Basic rules when buying a decorative carpet in Turkey

Category: General

by Ludwina Akbulut

I know people reading Jozan Magazine are mostly not ‘novices’ in carpets.
But for those novices in search for some basic information I did put together a ‘first lesson: what to look for when buying a decorative carpet in Turkey’.

To understand better first I briefly explain how a hand knotted carpet is made.

Symmetric, Turkish or Ghiordes knot
Symmetric, Turkish or Ghiordes knot

Warp is put on the loom, first a little piece of flat weave is made and then the design of the carpet is started: Tie a line of knots in different colors to form the design followed by wefts, pull down with a comb and then clip the knots by scissors to an even length.

Build up the carpet by repeating this line for line: knots-wefts-clip and so on.

Assymetric, Persian or Senneh knot
Assymetric, Persian or Senneh knot

A knot can be symmetric or asymmetric. On the back they look the same.

To obtain fine carpets the warp is placed very close together; usually asymmetric knotting will be used because this makes it easier to pull the warps on top of each other.

Carpet back with no depressed warp
Carpet back with no depressed warp

Now we want to see if a carpet is handmade: Turn the carpet backside up and look at how the warp runs. This is the direction of the fringe.

For a carpet with no depressed warp you see one knot at the back as two horizontal dots of the same color, the knots forming a line horizontal on the warp.

Carpet back with depressed warp
Carpet back with depressed warp

To obtain fine carpets the warp is placed very close together; usually asymmetric knotting will be used because this makes it easier to pull the warps on top of each other, then we say a warp is ‘depressed’.
With a completely depressed warp you only see one part of the knot but you can see again they are located horizontally on the warp.

Single wefted carpet
Single wefted carpet

While looking at the back of the carpet check if there are two wefts between each row of knots. In some cheap carpets only one weft is made and this makes the carpet very vulnerable for damage. Just packaging the carpet to bring it home can break some wefts and will cause loosening of several knots. So avoid a purchase of this very poor quality type of carpet.

On a single wefted carpet you will see one weft between the lines of knots and you can see parts of the white warp.

Double wefted carpet
Double wefted carpet

With two wefts made between the lines of knots the white warp is completely covered.

It is always good to have a complete look at the backside of a carpet before you decide to buy. If there were problems during the weaving or restored damage you will see this more quickly on the back.

If the back looks good turn again to the front and have a look at the knots. Try to see if the carpet has a symmetric or asymmetric knots. In cheaper wool or wool hand knotted copies the asymmetric knot is used, whereas in carpets made in their original region you still have symmetric knots. So the use of an asymmetric knot in a Turkish carpet can be of help to define if we are looking at a cheaper ‘touristy’ piece.

While looking at the knot we also can look at the color: does the color look the same on top of the carpet as it looks inside the knot: some carpets are bleached in the sun and then you see a difference: more light on the top than inside the knot. A carpet that is (acid) washed sometimes still can have a ‘chemical’ smell. Acid washes damage the wool fiber so avoid these…

Every carpet coming from the loom is (water) washed, so if there is a problem with ‘bleeding’ color you should see this: look for design parts in red-white color: it is usually the red which causes problems. Although in Turkish carpets there are not frequent such problems. I have seen problems with ‘bleeding’ only in ‘Capadocia’ (Yahyali and Taspinar) carpets. Also in the so-called ‘Bohara’ carpets – some Iranian productions can have problems with bleeding of the red color.

To see if a carpet is a vegetable or a chemical dye is more difficult, it needs a trained eye.
But try to look at a bigger part of the design in one color: if this color appears flat, without life or without small nuances of the same color, it is probably chemical dye.

It is not possible to see if the quality of the dye will keep well after exposure to light.
With my experience I can say that this infrequently occurs in Turkish productions, But I do know it can be a problem for some cheaper ‘Milas‘ carpets and not a problem for the cheap ‘Kars’ carpets.

Another easy detail that can help is to look at the ‘finishing’ of the carpet. Look at the fringe and the edges. When finished with more care it is probably a better piece.

To have an idea about the quality of the wool used again requires a little training.
Touch the carpet and feel the wool. After touching different carpets you will feel a difference. Scratch with your nails on top of the knots; I hope dealers do not mind this, (I do not). We are explaining here about new carpets! Every new carpet will lose some fibers but when a poor quality of wool is used you will see lose a lot of the fibers. Handspun wool is almost never used any more in new pieces.

Now we have an idea of what carpet we are looking at. A handmade carpet with symmetric knots in a vegetable dye will be much more expensive than a hand-knotted carpet with asymmetric knots, chemical dye and poor quality wool.

The price of a carpet depends on the work involved: preparation of the wool, dyeing and knotting the carpet. A vegetable dye will increase the price a lot.

If a carpet is more dense the price will be higher than a looser knotted one.
There are also other factors involved besides the carpet itself, the location of the shop for example, or the nice man bringing you to the shop of his uncle…

My general rule is this: as long as you like the carpet, know what type of carpet it is and are paying a correct price in proportion to what you get for it, there is no problem.

Ludwina Akbulut – September 18, 2003

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