Louis Cristal cruise: Learning how beautiful Turkish carpets are made

A weaver creates a carpet at Bulbul Mountain Looms.
A weaver creates a carpet at Bulbul Mountain Looms.

ABOARD THE LOUIS CRISTAL – Just watching her makes my eyes, back and fingers hurt. But what a beautiful creation she is weaving and what an historic tradition she is continuing.

“Every year it gets harder and harder to find weavers,” said Hakan Ogunc guiding us through a tour of Bulbul Mountain Looms. “Today, young people want to sit in front of computers. They don’t want to learn to do this.”

The government-authorized carpet cooperative in Izmir, Turkey, is one of the shore excursions when the Louis Cristal docked in the Turkish port of Kusadasi on the second day of our cruise.

Hanan Ogunc explains the differences in Turkish carpet.
Hanan Ogunc explains the differences in Turkish carpet.

We started out at 7 this morning because we need to be back on board before the 1 p.m. departure from Kusadasi. This afternoon, we will be arriving in Samos and going ashore for more adventures there.

Sleep? Nope, don’t have much time for that on this cruise. Too much to see and do and I wouldn’t want to miss a marvelous moment.

For example, at Bulbul Mountain Looms we were given a trip through Turkish carpet history and also a  peek into what it takes to create one of those masterpieces. The carpets I saw at Bulbul were indeed works of art.

“No two are alike,” Ogunc said. “We don’t have a website to show the carpets because they are one of a kind. When one is sold, there is no other like it.”

A wool carpet can take 50 days to make; a silk one 10 months. As an interesting stop on our tour, Ogunc showed us how silk thread is harvested from silkworms cocoons. Silk carpets are the most difficult to weave and the most expensive to buy.

Because of the tedious work, weavers have time limits to protect their vision. “If it is silk, a weaver can’t work on it more than three hours,” Ogunc said. “If it is wool, it is five hours.”

Even the exterior of Bulbul Mountain Looms is beautiful.
Even the exterior of Bulbul Mountain Looms is beautiful.

One special carpet that Ogunc unfurled took an amazing five years to fashion. “Carpets like this start at $21,000 and there is no limit,” he said.

Although the Turkish carpets can be a huge investment, they also can last for generations, Ogunc said. “Wool carpet lasts longer than we do. Those carpets can last 100 years and more.”

The carpets are made to be used, he added. “Walk on them. Feel them under your feet,” he said, inviting us up to step on the carpets. “The cleaning of these is easy because it is all-natural fibers. If you need to clean them,  just use baby shampoo.”

Although several women are weaving carpets at the cooperative, most of the carpets are made in the weavers’ homes. “There are about 1,200 ladies we have employed around here.,” he said. “They can work at home and make money to help their families … It makes the ladies more independent.”

Most of the weavers are married with families and many of their husbands are farmers in the rural area. “Carpet weaving is a woman’s job. Farming a man’s job,” Ogunc said. “But there is a prison in the central part of Turkey where men weave.”

Turkish drinks are offered to guests at Bulbul Mountain Looms.
Turkish drinks are offered to guests at Bulbul Mountain Looms.

A talented weaver can make $600 a month which is good wages for such a rural area, Ogunc said. “Silk weavers are the best weavers and earn more money than wool weavers, They are sharing all the profits because this is a cooperative.”

As his helpers unrolled carpet after carpet until the floor was piled deep in beauty, Ogunc gave us good advice on the ideal carpet to buy. “The best carpet in the world is the one you like best.”

As part of Turkish hospitality, Ogunc then offered us Turkish tea or traditional raki liquor “It is what we do to make you welcome,” he said as a man walked around with a swinging tray to hand out the drinks.

Also known as Lion’s Milk, raki is the Turkish national drink made of twice-distilled grapes and aniseed. One of the lovely traditions associated with raki  is to knock your glass lightly on the table after toasting in remembrance of someone you wish were there with you. That I did.

As we drank, Ocunz noted that “one raki will get ride of headache and stomachache. Have two raki and you will see flying carpets.”

We all settled for one raki because we had many more roads to travel on this wonderful day ashore from the Louis Cristal.

Photos and video by Jackie Sheckler Finch

July 30, 2014

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