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The history of the Bieberproject

These days, in a climate of international market uncertainty, the manufacture of carpets can be commercially successful only if the most stringent requirements can be satisfied by intensive marketing. Such a process is very capital-intensive and there is no guarantee that a product which is highly praised today does not become a white elephant tomorrow.
The Kavacik Project in Istanbul has ignored the problems of the present-day carpet trade and also the various trends and fashions. The carpet models used were the works of unknown Anatolian master weavers which can be seen in the famous museums in Istanbul and found in the carpet literature. It was the aim of the Project right from the start to produce high quality village and workshop carpets. The materials and techniques are those which were used in the weaving areas before the introduction of synthetic dyes. The main priority is the individual character of every single carpet - not mass production.
Yorgo MihailidisThe leading personalities involved with the Project are Yorgo Mihailidis (fig. 1), who looked after the finances, and Mehmet Abuşka (fig. 2 on the right), who was so inspired by the idea of dyeing with natural vegetable pigments that he left his village on the Large Ararat in order to train for a new craft in Istanbul. In addition to these two enthusiastic men, the Project is carried by a large number of Anatolian girls and women who live in the Gecekondus, estates which went up overnight in the city of seven million people. They form the basis of a carpet workshop which was established four years ago in Kavacik in the Asian part of Istanbul. Even the most starryeyed optimists warned against the setting up of a manufacture in a region which had no carpet tradition. But all warnings were forgotten when we met the carpet master Susan Altin (fig. 3 on the left) from Malatya. Her life story is representative of the many families who today live in the Gecekondus of Istanbul. Lack of any infra-structure caused her family fifteen years ago to move from Malatya to Istanbul. The culmination of their hopes and dreams was a Gecekondu at the outskirts of the metropolis. In these Gecekondus the girls and women follow a much more conservative life style than in the Anatolian villages and are much more closely tied to their families. This change of lifestyle restricts the scope of the women. Whereas the men have a more or less regular job - although 75 per cent are unemployed - the women are limited to housework and occasional work that they can do from home, which is in no way connected with their former activities, i.e., wool production and fabrication and carpet weaving.

Mehmet AbuşkaThus an enormous potential of skill and experience for the manufacture of carpets is wasted. On the other hand,when we showed Susan naturally dyed wools and the carpet models, she at once agreed to weave the first carpet for us. Anybody who visits the workshop in Kavacik today is surprised by the family atmosphere and the close relationship between the weavers and their 'master'. There are seventeen looms where almost forty women and girls aged between fifteen and twenty-five work from sketches and carpet fragments. Every drawing is accompanied by a precise structural analysis. Photographs of design details and carpet structure help the weavers with their work.
The master is responsible for the choice of wool for warp, weft and pile. For the first piece, the dyed wool is provided. For the second and third piece, master and weaver can make their own decision within the given colour scheme. The weavers are capable of working from memory, even after having woven a complicated design composition only three times.
In order to encourage the workers and maintain their morale, they are well paid and enjoy a number of social benefits. The healthy working climate is evident by the fact that there is little fluctuation among the work force and that the weavers are always ready to discuss new carpet models when they arrive at the workshop. The individual interpretation of the patterns during weaving is highly admirable. It was particularly noticeable in the two Usak carpets which were made specially for the Vienna conference.

Susan AltinIt becomes more and more evident that a weaver makes a carpet for herself - eyeh if she never sees it again. Since the inception of the Kavacik Project, a hard core, of twenty-five talented workers was trained who, in turn, pass their skill to newly engaged girls and women. At present the Project is suffering from lack of space, problem which can only be solved by opening a second workshop. The results of years of field research in Anatolia supplied the basis for the establishment of the Kavacik Project. Three aspects are of fundamental importance for the manufacture of carpets:

  • Wool and the processing of wool,
  • The techniques of using dyes and mordants,
  • Plants which yield vegetable dyes.

In the whole of Anatolia there are twenty-two different breeds of sheep which supply wool (see Sheepraces). This is why the products of the various manufacturing centres all have their own typical characteristics. It is impossible to include all these various types in one project so in order to secure the individuality of the carpets we agreed on the use of the high quality wools of the Karaman 'fat tail sheep' which can be found anyuwhere in Anatolia and whose wool differs in type according to the individual areas. For the Kavacik Project, only the long-haired fleece of the first year's shearing is used. The carpets made from this wool are particularly hard-wearing. Apart from sheep wool, the hair of Angora goats and camels as well as naturally dyed silk is used.
Extensive research in the wool markets of Anatolia as a whole showed that there was a marked dividing line between east and west: good carpet wool, albeit in insufficient quantities, can be found in the central and eastern areas of the country. Machine wool and so-called hand-spun wool is available in unlimited quantities.
I would like to emphasise that so-called hand-spun wool does not represent a criterion of quality, if the wool is carded by machine before being spun. But hand-carding and hand-spinning are important quality criteria since only the best fleeces can be carded by hand. The layman will notice these differences when the carpet loses its wearing surface, i.e. the pile, after a short time. The types of wool required for the Kavacik Project are chosen by an expert, washed by the suppliers, and then carded and spun by hand.
At present, two hundred women are employed in the wool supply programme and if necessary this workforce could be increased at any time. Special qualities of wool can be supplied, if required, by the older women from the Gecekondus. This laborious and expensive process of producing wool would be pointless, however, unless the vegetable dyes and techniques used in Anatolia in the old days are once more employed. Our intensive field research quickly provided excellent information on the range of dye plants formerly in use in Anatolia, but it was far more difficult to find out what dyeing techniques were used since only very few people are still alive who have any knowledge of this craft.
However, eight years of painstaking research yielded enough data to give us a good idea of the old dyeing techniques. These data were used to develop a process which can be used in the villages and which does not require special knowledge of chemistry but calls for wide experience and a well developed instinct for colour reactions. The wool is prepared for the dyeing process by fermentation. After the application of mordants, the wool is immersed in a solution of sour dough, wheat bran and mordant salts. This process takes up to three months, and sometimes as long as ten months. For this bio-technical process the mould Endomy-ces lactis is used which achieves the ideal pH value of 4.4 and allows the metal ions of the mordants to achieve as many peptide compounds of the wool fibre as possible. After this process, even very tightly twisted wool fibres can be dyed without abrash.
Tests to establish the resistance of wool to fading, which were carried out over three months and also over one year, showed that there are significant differences between wool dyed after fermentation and wool dyed without fermentation (see Appendix 2). Experiments have shown that the dye shades are strongly affected by the hardness of the water. The problem which arose from the lack of hardness, especially using Rubia tinctqrum (madder), was solved by adding calcium and magnesium salts to the soft water in Istanbul.
In fifty-two important Anatolian carpet centres, the degree of the hardness of the local water was determined and the results taken into consideration during the dyeing process. This made it possible to give to the soft Istanbul water the properties of the water in Bergama, Konya and Kagizman in order to achieve the colour shades typical for these regions (see wateranalysis).
As regards the plants used for dyestuffs, we showed plants which grew in abundance at certain seasons of the year to old people in the villages. We were surprised to find how many different plants used to be employed for making yellow dyes. The following plants are used in the Kavacik Project:
Yellow shades: Inula viscosa, Erica arborea, Rhamnuspetiolaris, Reseda luteola, Pistacia palaestina, Euphorbia biglandulosa.
Red shades: mature roots of Rubia tinctorum (madder) or cochenille. Black: the fruit cups of the oak Quercus macrolepis or the galls of Quercus infectoria.
Brown shades: walnut shells (Juglans regia) combined with madder.
Violet: Madder which, when combined with plants containing tannic acid (acorn cups, Menthua pulegium) and immersion in ash, results in violet shades.
Orange and green shades: these are obtained by combining yellow and red plants or yellow plants after first dyeing with indigo.
Blue shades: Synthetic indigo.
To sum up the most important points: the Kavacik Project represents a fascinating, dynamic undertaking in an area like Istanbul with its heterogenous population structure. The Project's achievements are the conservation and promotion of the Anatolian carpet tradition while at the same time improving the employment situation in the Gecekondu estates.
The Project uses materials and methods traditionally employed in Anatolia. At the core of this is the fermentation process and the use of hand-carded and hand-spun wool. The present model represents only a tiny facet of the gigantic potential of a city like Istanbul with its seven million inhabitants. But it shows very clearly what has to be done to salvage the damaged reputation of the Turkish carpet.