WOMEN AND CARPET WEAVING IN TURKEY
Carpet weaving is one of the most ancient crafts in Turkey, and for centuries, women have played a pivotal role in their creation.
Historically, the Turks were among the earliest carpet weavers. According to the Lonely Planet Guide, the earliest known carpet utilizing the double knotted Gordes style dates between the 4th and 1st centuries BC. It is believed that the Seljuks introduced carpet weaving techniques into Anatolia in the 12th century.
Marco Polo notes in his travel diaries that Konya, the Seljuk capital, was the center of carpet production in the 13th century. Carpets and kilims, rugs without a knotted pile, have been used by nomadic tribes as floor coverings in their tents. They provided comfort, warmth as well as decor.
Village women have woven carpets for family use. A daughter had a greater chance of marrying if she was a skilled weaver and would offer carpets as part of her dowry to her future husband. She would take great care in the dyeing and hand-spinning of wool and in the selection of designs and motifs, some of which were related to her daily life and tribal culture.
Carpet Weaving and Gender Relations
Since the 19th century, there has been a tremendous demand for Turkish carpets and kilims. This development was responsible for the proliferation of carpet companies. Today, about 95% of women employed in this industry work for these firms. Some work in their homes while others labor in company workshops.
Women working outside the home will spend an average of twelve hours per day in the summer months, from sunrise to sunset and about 8-10 hours daily during the winter. Those working in the home alternate their weaving with their domestic chores. Weaving is done primarily when there is natural light. Women are not paid an hourly wage, but rather for the completed carpet or kilim. There are many criteria used to determine the amount she will receive such as the intricacy of the design, quality of the materials used, and if it is a carpet, the number of knots per square centimeter.
In general, women remain anonymous creators of these extraordinary carpets. Some attribute this to gender. Another reason is that many people are involved in the production of these carpets such as dyeing and hand-spinning fibers, particularly under the workshop model. Finally carpet production is considered more of a cultural tradition rather than art. Carpets and kilims are an integral part of everyday life in Turkey.
The Indigo Project, one of 45 carpet projects in the country, is the only such enterprise that acknowledges the individual artists for their craft. Each weaver are also strongly encouraged to weave her name into the kilim. Each customer that purchases a rug is issued a certificate of authenticity with the name, age village origin of the weaver, and the kilim design origin, some of which are completely original. Others use elements of ancient designs. It will take quite some time for any particular woman to become well known for her weaving. However, Belkis Belpinar, the author of several excellent books about kilims has been recognized for her "designer" kilims.
While rural women play a crucial role in the carpet industry, they still encounter gender inequalities with respect to control over their own labor power and household expenditures. Nevertheless, one must be careful not to make broad generalizations. While prior portrayals of rural women typically cast them as oppressed and passive, recent field studies indicate this is not the case. Günseli Berik, (1995) for example, provides insight into the gender hierarchy among carpet weaving villages in Turkey and discusses the structural factors which influence women's activities, workload, and decision-making power. She correlates distinct agrarian patterns with the forms of carpet weaving production. In so doing, she concludes gender inequalities are more pronounced in areas with mechanized grain agriculture such as Konya. Here, workshop workshop weaving prevails because most families can not survive on agriculture alone. Women therefore become full tome carpet weavers and have little control over their labor power both in the shop and at home because of the pressure on them to maximize production. In addition, the sexual division of labor is more rigid. In areas such as Milas, where diversified cash crops prevails, the importance of carpet weaving as household income declines because agriculture is the primary source of income. Carpet production in these areas is done in the home, and as a result, women have more flexibility over their allocation of their time. There is far less pressure on them to maximize production because they also assist men in the fields. They also have considerable say over how weaving and other income is spent. Isparta is another area where there is diversified cash crops with carpet production done both in the home and in workshops. However unlike Konya, the flexibility of workshop schedules is institutionalized due to the increased workload of women in agriculture. As in Milas, Isparta weavers also have considerable say how weaving income is spent
It is interesting to note that only women weave carpets and kilims, while men repair them. Male carpet weavers are not accepted in Turkish culture. Our group visited a carpet repair factory, a "rug hospital", within the Aegean Free Zone Development and Operating Company, www.aegeanfreezone.com, in Izmir. While the majority of employees are men, there are also a few women who work here. Below are some pictures I took during our stop.
Source: Mariana Ornelas