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Student Story: A Carpet Encounter

Emily Wood from Hollins University and Jasmine Haefner from Stony Brook University enjoy apple tea as Serdar Taken the shop owner talks about the carpet trade in Istanbul, Turkey. (photo by Russ Bryant)

Similar to most days that my friends and I spent in Turkey, it began with a short hike up the hill to “Old Town.” We bumbled through the streets, attempting to find our way to the Spice Market, referring to a sheet of paper that was really more of a brief sketch than a map. As we turned the corner I pointed out the Grand Bazaar and a shopkeeper, who was sweeping the sidewalk, noticed us speaking English. His head snapped up and he said, “American? American?” Before we had a chance to show more then a slight head nod, he offered us tea, an overriding custom of hospitality in Turkey, and began leading us down a street. We obliged and began to follow him down a side street that was close by, avoiding mislaid cobblestones and a shallow, continuous divot that ran through the center of the walkway, serving as a communal drain. His name was soon to be lost in the folds of the fabric of our minds as we were introduced to a second shopkeeper.

While entering his shop you feel the need to duck your head, as if you’re walking into a hidden cave full of treasures. Rugs paint the walls, turning themselves into tapestries, your jaw goes slack and eyes open an extra few millimeters to absorb the colors and designs that dance in your plane of view. The owner, Serdar Takan, led us to the back showroom; apple tea was handed to us shortly thereafter. All four of us took seats on the low-lying, padded benches lining the room. Serdar and his workers began showing us 100 percent silk rugs, most of which measured nine by six feet. Every time a new rug was unrolled with exacting finesse, the thread count climbed higher.

The silk was woven so tightly that even the smallest change in the angle of light brought a new illumination of colors. I realized that being in Serdar’s shop was the first time I had ever been in a place where everything was made from scratch and by hand. I could feel the history rub off on my hands as I placed it on my lap. The memory shows a stark contrast between the rug I held in my hand and the shag rug I purchased from Target for my dorm room before freshman year. We were told Turkish women can spend up to a year and a half on a large rug; I’m sure my shag rug took a machine no more then five minutes to sling together.

After the display, Serdar sat down and drank his tea with us. He recently moved back to Turkey from California, where he had lived for more then a decade running his own Turkish rug business. When I asked where all of the rugs in his shop came from, he responded by saying that they were all from Turkey, of course. The conversation led to other aspects of Turkish culture.  We learned about the bazaars and tourist “must-sees,” the Hippodrome, the Hagia Sophia and the Basilica Cistern. After a few moments that extended a tad too long we made our exit to leave, thanking Serdar and the other workers for their hospitality and a refined display of their art.

If you are ever in Turkey, take the time to sip apple tea and feel the lavish texture of whipped clouds under your toes, woven by hand from the loom of a Turkish woman.

Store owner Serdar Takan teaches students Jasmine Haefner from Story Brook University, Josh Lasley from Florida State University and Kyle Brady from Millersville University about the Turkish way to make carpets on a loom. The most distinguishing difference between Turkish carpets and other oriental style carpets is the number of knots per thread; Turkish style uses a double knot, the rest use a single knot. (photo by Russ Bryant)
Serar Takan has been in the carpet business for over 14 years both in the United States and in Istanbul, and is very proud of the fine carpets that his shop has to offer. He takes the time to detail how each carpet is made, on average taking women up to 3 months to make just one. (photo by Russ Bryant)
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