Heritage and Hopes Are Tied Together in Kilim Rugs
One of White River Junction’s newest shops, Little Istanbul shimmers like a jewelry box. Lamps delicately pieced together from individual glass shards cast colorful lights on finely woven scarfs and towels. Spices scent the air. Vural Oktay, co-owner of Little Istanbul and the popular restaurant The Tuckerbox, has brought back many treasures from his frequent visits to Turkey, but he is most passionate about the kilim rugs stacked in the back of the store.
Many of these rugs are handwoven by women, such as Oktay’s mother and her sisters, in anticipation of their wedding. Each stitch is double knotted to ensure its durability. Traditionally, a young Turkish woman works alongside her mother and sisters to create rugs and other items she will need in her own home. After her wedding, she will open her dowry trunk, called ceyiz, in a ceremony honoring her skill. The tradition, while fading, is still practiced in rural Turkey.
Each item in the ceyiz carries great cultural and personal significance, but few are more cherished than the rugs. “They put all their love into it. They put their soul and their hopes for a happy marriage into the rug,” explains Jackie Oktay, Vural’s wife and co-owner of Little Istanbul.
The craftswoman may add tassels as she weaves to represent her wishes for a good life. The selected patterns are often regional. In the region Vural Oktay grew up, women commonly incorporate an “S” motif to their kilim. Other motifs may be amulets designed to ward off the evil eye or protect their family from harm.
Vural Oktay prizes two rugs created by his mother and her sister for his aunt’s wedding. While most of the rugs’ colors are derived from natural materials including local berries, roots and leaves, these rugs also contain yarn from relatives’ sweaters. Another rug woven by his mother has strands of his sister’s hair embedded in the rug.
Vural Oktay's uncle gave him several rugs woven by his mother and aunt.
The Oktay family heirlooms are not for sale, but many other authentic kilim rugs are. “When you are touching the rug, you are touching someone’s life,” Jackie Oktay says. “It’s a magic carpet.”
Vural Oktay gives several tips for identifying heirloom kilim rugs. He recommends examining the back of the rugs. If the horizontal stands that provide a backbone for the rug are perfectly parallel, then a machine wove the rug. Human hands create little imperfections, stretching the strands a little one way or the other. The outside edge of the rug will also have some variation rather appearing in a straight line. Finally, there will be a few tiny bald areas were the craftswoman missed a few knots.
Tiny imperfections visible on the reverse side of the rug are hallmarks of a handwoven kilim.
“People may say these are mistakes,” Vural Oktay says. “The mistakes make them unique.” The mistakes are expressions of life and love – imperfect and irreproducible.