Turkish Textiles History

Instructor: Joanna Harris

Joanna has taught high school social studies both online and in a traditional classroom since 2009, and has a doctorate in Educational Leadership

To discover what can happen to textile production in a country where it represents the wealth of the king, give this lesson on the Turkish textile industry a good read.

Turkish Textiles

One great way to see the cultural distinctiveness of any nation is through its clothing and the fashions people wear. Clothing is manufactured from textiles or fabrics and cloth made from natural and/or synthetic fibers. Turkey, formerly known as the Ottoman Empire, has a history that stretches back to antiquity, and their textile industry goes back just as far.

While Turkey was the Ottoman Empire (1299 through 1922), textiles were an important part of their economy and a feature of the nobility. Any textile sold was a part of the empire's treasury which in those days belonged to the sultan (king) and royal family. In this way textiles and the wealth of the sultan were interchangeable illustrating the importance of textiles in the Ottoman Empire. This fact also indicates that Ottoman textiles had to be of high quality, and were considered to be a luxury item.

Turkish Carpet 11th - 13th Century

Textile Production

As far back as the year 1502, Busra was the hub for the Ottoman Empire's textile market, and as all textiles belonged to the royal family their sale and manufacture were controlled by the state. Any Turkish textile merchant had to follow rules and procedures to sell their wares in Busra, and those who disobeyed these laws were met with swift retribution. The rules all textile merchants adhered to were found in the ihtisab kanunameleri, and most of the procedures listed in this manual were explicit in their requirements.

No silk merchant could follow their own devices for weaving silk as everything from the materials used, the thread count of the silk fabrics, and the weight of the textiles created was strictly monitored. Merchants couldn't even use their own gold and silver embossment threads as these too were monitored by the state and manufactured in state run textile workshops called simikeshaneler. Any threads used for this purpose had to have the endorsement of the government, or never made it to the Busra marketplace for sale.

As soon as garments (especially silk) were finished they had to be sent to state officials called muhtesip to be ironed, measured and inspected. Muhtesips ensured that all rules and procedures of the ihtisab kanunameleri were adhered to before any textile could be sent to Busra for sale.

This type of rigorous supervision facilitated the high quality of all Turkish textiles. It also provided for the creation of textiles that were distinctively Turkish and unlike any others produced the world over.

Turkish Mirror Cover 18th Century

The Turkish state classified all textiles into three groups of cotton, wool, or silk. This was important due to the fact that most cotton and wool textiles in the 15th through the 17th centuries were imports. Cotton was obtained from India, and wool (mainly used for soldier uniforms) came from Europe.

However, mohair production was something that the Turkish prided themselves on and was made from the hair of angora goats found in the Ankara region of the country. Mohair was very soft and silky, just like the hair of the Angora goat, but when mixed with wool could be used to create clothing. Mohair exports did very well abroad, especially in Europe.

Angora Goat

Turkish Silk

Nevertheless, when it came to textile production nothing compared to silk for the Turkish. Also found in Busra was the silk worm used to obtain the silky yet strong fibers used to create silk. Even more than the capital of Istanbul, Busra cornered the market for silk production and trade.

The Turkish have mainly worked with silk extracted from silk worms that they then embossed or trimmed with gold and silver threading. Turkish textiles can also double as works of art as gold and silver designs of tulips, date palm trees, or the Islamic crescent moon and star can be seen in many examples across periods.

Many different textile hybrids can be made from silk ranging from taffeta, satin, velvet, and brocades. Excellent weavers of silk, the Turkish created works of art that exceeded clothing. For example, Turkish brocades that they called kemha could have embroidered gold and silver flowers and celestial bodies which adorned furniture cushions, carpets, and even mirrors that date back to the 16th and the 17th centuries.

Ottoman Brocade 16th Century

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