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.
Specifying the reason behind your carpet purchase will help you decide on the quality and price range of the product you’re looking for.
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.
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.
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.
To make your shopping spree hassle-free and as pleasant as possible, we’ve listed some of Turkeys 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.