If you’re reading this, chances are you have an eye on a Turkish carpet. However, the process of buying them is no easy task. But don’t worry. Following our easy steps will help you get precisely the unique item you’re seeking.
By Marzena Romanowska
Step 1: Commit to handmade
For centuries, carpets have been created as valuable pieces of decoration for the homes of the nomadic Turks. There are two main types. First, there is a kilim (a flat-woven carpet), the oldest of which is thought to have emerged in Çatalhöyük in 7000 BC, located in the middle of the Anatolian region. However, halı (knotted rugs), are believed to have been introduced by Turkic tribes sometime during the 8th or 9th century, and to have made their way to Anatolia during the 12th century. They were used to cover the walls and floors of stone houses, making them cozier, and more importantly – warmer.
Between the 12th and 19th centuries, village women wove carpets for private use, turning them into forms of self-expression, reflecting their sorrows and joys through their choice of colors, patterns, and motifs. Working with their hands, Anatolian women used high-quality natural materials like wool and silk, and illustrated the daily life of the period with regional motifs that came to life through their creativity. This centuries-long experience, transferred between generations, is what adds great value to a handmade carpet.
Around the 19th century, when Turkish carpets were introduced to Europe and mass popularity made it hard to meet demand, production facilities began to change and less costly, but also lower quality machine-made products began to appear. Handmade carpets have remained in Turkish culture as art forms, while mass production turned them into inexpensive products for everyday use. The latter category is what you find in chain stores around the world, and – honestly speaking – no trip to Turkey will get you a better deal than Ikea.
What we define as a Turkish carpet in this article is a handmade piece (either halı or kilim) traditionally made of natural, quality materials. The following steps will help you recognize these types of carpets and avoid overpaying. You just need make the investment of time and money.
Step 2: Decide what this purchase means to you
Specifying the reason behind your carpet purchase will help you decide on the quality and price range of the product you’re looking for.
Is it a status symbol?
The most exclusive rugs are made of naturally dyed, 100 percent silk thread, and buying one is considered a serious investment. Due to the thread’s thickness, the weaving process might take anywhere from six months – for small 30x40cm decorative pieces – to several years for carpets larger than two square meters. This combination of material and manufacturing time results in a final price comparable to one of a new car. Don’t think that your bargaining skills will help you pay less than a few thousand of dollars for a pure silk carpet. If a seller suddenly offers you a piece for a much lower price, you’re probably looking at a silk-wool or silk-cotton blend. In step 3, we explain in detail how to tell the difference between pure silk and blend weaves.
As mentioned earlier, for centuries Anatolian women used traditional patterns, dyes and motifs to tell their personal stories, and make a mark on a product that was meant to be passed onto the next generations. Professional carpet-sellers are fluent in this traditional symbol-based language. They will be happy to tell you what it stands for, and you can decide for yourself if that particular story is the one you want to welcome to your house. Although the patterns and motifs have nothing to do with the final price of the rug, its fringe might. It can help you recognize the type of thread used to weave it: while silk fringe is soft and thin, wool is rather thick and spiky. If the fringe is tied into single knots of two different colors, it means the carpet maker was married (and often more experienced). Double knots in more than two colors stand for the weaver having children.
A valuable antique?
Carpet dealers are collectors on their own terms. They travel around Anatolia in search of unique pieces and store them (often for years or decades) in their showrooms, waiting for the right customer. Those rare finds, just like vintage fashion pieces, often come with additional value added to the price tag. Another take on vintage, which come in various shapes and conditions, is to turn pieces into patchwork carpets, which seems to be aligned with the latest home decoration trends.
There is no such thing. Move on.
Step 3: Estimate what are you actually paying for
Always touch the carpet you want to buy! Although silk carpets tend to be smoothest, it is quite difficult to recognize silk-cotton blends with a single touch. If you don’t quite trust what the seller is telling you, check the thickness of the threads. If the vertical threads (the warp) are thicker than the horizontal ones (the weft), it means two different materials have been used to make the carpet’s frame. Pure silk carpet is not only very thin but also very smooth, so you can easily slide and spin it on the floor (hence the majority of them are not meant to be walked on, but rather hung on walls or displayed in frames like paintings), while blends tend to be more spin-resistant. Thick, soft thread denote cotton, thick and itchy are pure wool.
Here’s the tricky part. Blends featuring high-quality cotton and lambswool can be easily mistaken for pure silk, as they’re very soft. On the other hand, if you’re in love with the glimmering silk look but can’t quite afford it, blends might be the alternative you’re looking for.
What to look for
- Start by checking the back side of the carpet. Handmade ones have clearly visible patterns on both sides, while machine-woven ones are one-sided;
- Look at the number of knots per square unit. Just like pixels in digital photos, high quality carpets have high density of knots. You can easily see this on the back side of the carpet. The higher the density, the higher the price of the carpet;
- As silk threads are smooth and shiny, pure silk and carpets woven on the weft (horizontal weave) using silk, cause an optical illusion of changing colors when rotated 180 degrees. The same pattern seen from different angles seems different.
- Compare the thickness of the threads. Although not easily noticeable with an untrained eye, rugs made of only one type of material (pure silk, pure cotton, pure wool) should have vertical and horizontal threads of the same thickness;
- Check for hidden signatures included in the pattern, such as names of towns and villages where the rugs were made (such as the famous town of Hareke), or family names of the makers (for example, Çınar). These can be seen as the equivalent to brands in the fashion industry.
Ask the right questions
- When was the rug made? Vintage carpets tend to be more pricey comparing to new ones. They will also be telling completely different stories.
- Which part/town of Anatolia does it come from? The patterns and materials used to make a carpet vary according to the geographical location of the maker. Experienced sellers should be able to tell you what and how a particular material has been used. For example, rugs from Uşak are known to be made from a particular type of silky wool, and to fit within a soft-toned color palette. Most carpet shops in Istanbul, especially those in the Grand Bazaar, also sell carpets made in other countries, mainly Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan.
- Should I bargain? Yes, always, but in a humorous and respectful fashion to get the same attitude in return. If you’re trying to negotiate a price of a really valuable piece by starting from just a few liras/dollars/euros, it might be a sign for the salesman that you’re not serious about your purchase, and don’t understand the rules behind the pricing.
- What kind of certificate of authenticity do you provide? Reputable carpet sellers provide a range of documentation on the origin, age and materials used.
- What’s the best cleaning method? Different materials may require different methods of care, so make sure to get the most accurate info for your purchase.
- Will the colors fade? Naturally dyed carpets will fade less and more beautifully than ones with chemical dyes. High-quality Turkish carpets almost always feature natural dyes. But be careful about where you place your carpet in the house, because overexposure to sunlight will cause the colors to fade more rapidly.
- Do you cover shipping costs? With the current luggage restrictions, it is unlikely that you’ll be able to take a carpet on the plane with you. Many reputable stores offer shipping services and cover the costs. Make sure you know how shipping will be handled before you buy.
Choosing the right carpet seller
To make your shopping spree hassle-free and as pleasant as possible, we’ve listed some of Istanbul’s most trusted rug shops. Remember, if at any point you feel that your salesperson is trying to upsell you, or is more pushy than you feel comfortable with, it is perfectly ok to leave the store and move on to the next one on your list.
- Çınar Halı: Named after the world-renowned award-winning family of carpet-makers, the place is a primary choice of those seeking for the highest quality and the most exclusive carpets. Nuruosmaniye Caddesi No.4, Cağaloğlu; T: (0212) 513 83 17
- Dhoku & Ethnicon: Sister stores that sell patchwork carpets and kilims. At Dhoku, you’ll find modernized versions of antique Anatolian rugs and kilims, patchworked to create something new and modern. At Ethnicon, you’ll find more contemporary but still ethnic patchwork rugs. Takkeciler Sokak No.58-60, Grand Bazaar; T: (0212) 527 68 41
- Gördes: Offering not only carpets but also gold and silver jewelry, watches, Iznik tiles, and leather goods, this place features antique Uşak carpets, as well as overdyed ones and a range of textiles. Muhterem Efendi Sokak No.4, Sultanahmet; T: (0212) 514 23 04
- Hakan Evin: With a long list of loyal customers, both local and foreign, third-generation shopkeeper Hakan Evin has a made a name in the Bazaar for selling high-quality Turkish and Persian carpets. Divrikli Caddesi No.57-59, Grand Bazaar; T: (0212) 512 74 63
- Hazal Halı: Just steps from the lovely baroque mosque in Ortaköy, Hazal Halı offers a remarkable selection of unique antique Anatolian kilims and carpets, storage bags, pillows, old Caucasian kilims and soumaks and old Uzbek kilims for every budget. Mecidiyeköy Köprüsü Sokak No.9, Ortaköy; T: (0212) 261 72 33, (0212) 227 40 71
- Nakkaş: Their massive collection of carpets, which spans a wide range of styles and designs to suit any taste and budget, is displayed in different showrooms dedicated to various styles of carpets. The basement is an amazing sixth-century Byzantine cistern that has been carefully restored and now serves as an exhibition space for Turkish artists. Nakilbent Sokak No.13, Sultanahmet; T: (0212) 516 52 22
- Recep Karaduman: Recep Karaduman has been in the carpet business since 1966, and has been collecting one-of-a-kind kilims and carpets from all over Anatolia since then. In addition, you’ll find few pieces from Iran, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Balkans. Takkeciler Sokak No.54, Grand Bazaar; T: (0212) 528 66 11
- Şişko Osman: Widely regarded as one of the foremost experts on Turkish kilims, Şişko Osman is now a fourth-generation family business. Well-known among the names in the bazaar, Osman also has his own private collection in the store, containing some priceless items from Turkey and beyond. Zincirli Han No.15, Grand Bazaar; T: (0212) 528 35 48