One day in my wanderings around Selçuk, the small town near to the ancient ruins of Ephesus, I negotiated my way between souvenir shops and corner cafes filled with backgammon playing experts, I found myself staring at two carpets in the window of Can Carpet. I have in my time looked at thousands of kilims and carpets, sat on heaps, trod on many and photographed hundreds. Somehow there was something about these two pieces that aroused my curiosity and I was drawn into the shop.
I introduced myself to the shop’s owner Osman Can, and we immediately began a discussion on the state of carpet weaving in Turkey. Unfortunately, I needed to leave for overseas the next day and promised to continue the conversation on my return. Weeks later, I reappeared at the shop where Osman surprised me with his account of his own personal vision of revitalizing high quality carpet and kilim weaving using authentic methods.
The two carpets in the window had been sold and replaced by two more of equal beauty, reminding me of designs displayed in the Museum of Islamic Arts in Istanbul, which indeed were their inspiration. They were the product of Osman’s own weaving workshop established two years ago in the nearby village of Çamlik. So without hesitation I accepted an invitation to visit his workshop hidden in the back streets of the village. As the door opened, I immediately realized that this was a well organized and professional operation in a specifically designed building projecting his vision through the planning and layout. Sipping many teas together, he enlightened me on the details of his total commitment to this long term project, while I sat enthralled.
The story starts with the fleece, but not just any fleece. The wool from Anatolian sheep and goats is selected from all the shades nature has to offer. The fibers are hand-spun using a drop spindle technique by ladies—no younger than 65 years of age—into the appropriate weights for warps or carpet knotting. The hanks of finished yarn arrive in Çamlik having being soaked in alum as a mordant ready for the dye bath.
Only natural dyes are used according to tradition to obtain the wonderful fullness and depth of color needed for the desired effect. Indigo for shades of blue, buckthorn for yellow ochre and madder for a specific red to name a few. Locally available.dyestuff such as walnut husks and dried pomegranate peel among others is also utilized.
Mehmet is Osman’s dye and weaving master, carrying centuries of knowledge in his bones from his home town of Sultanhan ( famous for weaving and the work of it’s carpet repair artisans) to the back streets of Çamlik. I was able to witness the magical process of indigo dyeing, to see the dry natural yarn be immersed in the dye bath, to emerge as emerald green slowly turning to a shade of blue as the dye oxidized in the air. The leftover dye was poured onto the vegetable garden full of aubergines, peppers and tomatoes, of course, I joked about the possibility of purple cucumbers or yellow beans!
Yarn quantities are determined by the carpet design and dyed accordingly. The color palette contains 13 shades and their variations together with all the natural hues of the original fleece. There are around 10 ladies in the indoor weaving studio who have graduated from a carpet weaving school. It has been set up by Can Carpet with government support to train students for six months to an acceptable standard. The atmosphere is one of a large family lead by his wife Funda, jointly working together with one goal in mind and I was astounded to learn that an expert weaver can produce 12,000 knots per day.
Initially the carpet designs were based closely on the originals hanging on the walls of the Museum of Islamic Arts in Istanbul —Uşak Lotto, Selçuklu, Afyon Dazkiri and Konya and others — following closely the design forms, colors and quality reproducing their beauty for generations to come. However true to Osman’s personal philosophy the collection now contains Tulu, Yatak, Nomadic and Contemporary Design pieces made to the same exacting
In my eyes these pieces are an art form and radiate an energy that only something that is handmade can have. The dedication and application needed to preserve the skill of carpet weaving is alive and well in the workshop in Çamlik. And what could be more appropriate than the name Can Carpet, can (pronounced jan) which means vitality and life in Turkish.