Production of the legendary handmade Turkish carpets and kilims (flat-weave rugs) can be open to exploitation of weavers by big rug dealers. However, a handful of workshops make sure that the well-being of weavers is as important as the quality and marketing of their product. One admirable group is the kilim weaving project supported by HADD (www.hadd.org.tr).
Passionate about the region’s weaving traditions, photographer and writer Enver Ozkahraman documented and researched hundreds of antique kilims and the organic dyeing techniques used in making the rugs. In 1991, he started the first kilim workshop in Van with only twelve young girls whose families had fled their villages because of clashes between Kurdish militants and the army.
Coming from traditional tribal communities, these girls were not allowed to go to school. Yet, often the girls are the only income providers in a family of ten to fifteen people. Once this group of young weavers was established in the workshop, Mr. Ozkahraman provided them with literacy training, hygiene and healthcare benefits, and childcare instruction. The community watched and approved of this non-traditional combination of both income generation work along with schooling for girls.
Soon, however, Mr. Ozkahraman needed help to expand his model, to set up a permanent infrastructure, to buy raw materials, to market the kilims and to educate the girls. After viewing a documentary about Mr. Ozkahraman and his project, a group of successful business professionals collaborated with Mr. Ozkahraman to start a non-profit organization in Istanbul to expand the number of model workshops. Its acronym in Turkish is HADD.
In just over a year they increased the number of workshops to three in the region and the number of weavers to more than 100. They now have an inventory of about one thousand hand-made kilims, which will soon be available for sale online.
The kilims are made with 100 percent wool that is sheared from the sheep during the spring and the fall. After the wool is washed and dried, the wool is combed and spun into yarn for weaving. The yarn is dyed with organic dyes obtained from natural resources. Over time the subtle colors from these dyes deepen and become richer.
According to HADD, until the 1960s Van kilims were asymmetric because they were woven in strips on narrow looms and then joined together, making it difficult to ensure perfect symmetry. Today the kilims are woven in one large piece, using vertical looms. The patterns may be vertical, horizontal, or diagonal, but they are symmetrical in general.
Kilim designs were developed over the centuries by local women to express a wide range of human emotions, customs, rituals, hostilities, and social conditions such as motherhood and fertility, as well as the landscape around them. A distinguishing characteristic of the kilims made by the Van weavers is that there is no empty space left since the design is created to cover the whole of the kilim. There may be borders, but they don’t distract from the unity of the design. Van kilims also specialize in patterns that are mostly stylized geometric shapes and the inside of each pattern is filled with a complementary secondary pattern.
In order to make this social enterprise a success, reaching new markets is essential. HADD’s goal is to increase the number of weavers to one thousand within the next two years. Kilims are available for sale at the Textile Museum in Washington D.C. The kilims will also be featured at Anatolian Artisans annual sale on Dec. 3, 2011 at the Washington International School.
Anatolian Artists (AnARt) is a 501c3 non-profit organization based in Washington DC, providing sustainable economic benefits for low-income artisans of Turkey through product development, micr-business management training and marketing. AnARt also organizes cultural tours to Turkey to raise awareness about the rich cultural heritage of Turkey. www.anatolianartisans.org. To reach Yildiz Yagci write to: