Photo Essay – How Turkish Carpets Are Made

For a number of years, there has been an underlying fear in the culturally orientated people of Turkey. They fear that the age-old tradition of handmade Turkish carpets is on the decline because of the mass availability of machine made carpets, which are half the price. Carpets weavers associations decided to pool resources, increase contacts and educate people about the process of making Turkish carpets.

I personally do not buy into the fear that this tradition will die out. 

About Turkish Carpets

Turkish carpets are not your everyday household product. They have a worldwide reputation for excellence and are a specialist product of which many people, whether educated in the history or not, can appreciate. Also thanks to the carpet weaver associations, future generations are taught this tradition which can often take years to master.

The other cool thing about the associations is they are more than eager to give you a personal tour to show you the process of making Turkish carpets. The first step starts with collecting the wool to prepare it for the color process.

Turkish carpets

Emphasis is on using natural dyes, as they last longer than any wool with artificial dye therefore maintaining the color of a carpet over the years.

Wool for turkish carpet

Once the wool is ready, it is rolled into balls and placed at the top of a frame. The women set to work weaving the wool in and out.

Turkish carpet tradition

A pattern is also at the top of the frame and when a section is completed, it is trimmed down with a pair of scissors. Using this process, a Turkish carpet can take months and even years to make.

Woman making Turkish carpet

One of the reasons that Turkish carpets are a specialist product is because patterns have meanings. Flowers, stars, eyes, birds, shapes and a variety of subjects can signify anything from love, passion, protection from evil, respect and motherhood.

Making of a Turkish carpet

Carpets are also specific to a region. If visiting a Turkish carpet store, you should pay great attention to where the carpet was made. Regions use a variety of the basic techniques and have their own specific colors and motifs.


The King of Turkish Carpets – A Silk Carpet

If money is no object, a silk carpet is an attractive option. Their life begins from silk cocoons, which are tenderly looked after until they sound hollow when knocked, signifying that the silk worm is dead. It can take several thousand cocoons just to make a silk carpet that is the same size as a pray mat. Prices for a silk carpet that is of a small size will start at roughly 2500 UK pounds.

Silk cocoons

How to Buy a Turkish Carpet

I have great respect for Turkish carpets and rugs. I have three in my house and often pop into any carpet shop just to marvel at the designs and patterns. There is an art to buying a Turkish carpet though, to ensure you get a good carpet for a good price.

Buying a Turkish carpet

You need to remember that the first price is already high as tradition dictates you have to bargain. This process will take at least an hour and during that time, expect to drink copious amounts of tea.

The first price given should be met with a shake of the head, a surprised look on your face and a return offer that is at least 40% less. The seller will do the same dramatic effects and return with another offer, until eventually you will meet in the middle for a price you both agree.

Think of it as a drama show and do not let any embarrassment hold you back otherwise you will end up with an empty wallet.

Do check for authenticity. I look at the back of the carpet , to make sure that I can see the pattern. I take notes on the region where the carpet was made, the meaning of the motifs and pattern and then I research this information on the internet. If I am not sure, I return with an expert in tow.

If you are buying a silk carpet, definitely seek expert advice on any potential purchase. 


Do Not Be Ripped Off

Take your time. Carpet sellers are hard-core and many people have been pushed into buying a carpet that it is not authentic and is overpriced. If you find yourself in this position, explain that you are going away to think about it and you will take their business card.


Readers Question: Do you own a Turkish carpet? What are your thoughts about this age-old tradition?


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Hi. My name is Natalie Sayin and I am the author of The Turkish Travel Blog. I am an Internet addict with a passion for history. Read my story here or leave a comment below to join the discussions.
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  1. says

    Good post on a subject close to my heart, Natalie! As the co-owner of a vintage carpet business here in Turkey since 1999, I see the biggest ‘threat’ not so much as machine-made carpets, but carpet wholesalers taking traditional Turkish patterns and weaving the rugs in other countries where the labor is much cheaper, and women (and children) work with no benefits is tough conditions. Associations do keep the art alive, but it’s for commerce now, less an expression of the weaver’s personality and creativity because the rugs must appeal to foreign buyers.

    In my experience, the best carpet sellers are low-key psychologists who know how to read a customer and give them time to fall in love with their purchase. Walk away from anyone you feel is hard-core; they harm the reputation of an ancient profession and don’t honor the talent that goes into weaving a carpet.

    • Nat says

      Hi Catherine. I did not know you co-owned a shop. Do you have a website? I didn;t realize that some people were outsourcing as well. Kind of makes the whole tradition fake if they do that. I agree that a good carpet seller can analyse his buyers to find a carpet that suits them.

    • Nat says

      Next time you are in Istanbul Alex, visit a carpet shop, if you can deal with the hard core sale. The sellers are often quite interesting if you find a good one

  2. says

    Lovely cultural insights, Natalie! I knew from research into other weaving traditions that the patterns had meaning, but I had no idea how much time/effort went into the bargaining process. Traveling has made me a much better haggler, but an hour? Wow!
    Bret @ Green Global Travel wrote about..GLOBAL CUISINE: Frozen Pisco Sour (Peru)

    • Nat says

      Sometimes more than an hour Bret- Depends on whether you are prepared to stick it out to get a good bargain :)

  3. says

    Fascinating! I was wondering if multiple people worked on a carpet or if they were usually made by just one person?

    And how do they know how to make the pattern – I didn’t see any kind of guide in the pictures? Was wondering if this is something that carpet makers pass down or if I just missed how the guide for the pattern?

    Such an interesting photo essay!
    Kate wrote about..I’d rather be traveling! What to do when you want to travel but can’t.

    • Nat says

      Sometimes by made by more than one and sometimes just one person will make it. I think it depends on the size and skill of each person. The pattern is normally placed on top of the framework and the women follow it but more than often, the motifs and colors have been handed down over generations so they are more than familar with the design

  4. says

    This is so fascinating, I would love to see how they make them. Our weaving tradition in Sardinia is very similar, I always feel very grateful to the people who fight to preserve such old customs despite modernity.
    Angela wrote about..A trip, a photo – Beirut, city of contrasts

    • Nat says

      You do have to give these people respect for their dedication however I feel there is no chance of the tradition Turkish carpet dying out

  5. says

    I love Turkish carpets and have a couple of them at home. And next time I want to buy one I’m going to follow your instructions.
    Italian Notes wrote about..Undiscovered Umbria

  6. says

    I just spent over an hour today in the Kapali Carsisi learning the ins/outs about kilims vs hali. Luckily, I was with a friend who’s lived here for 25 years and loves Turkish carpets. My favorite pattern included the lale, nar flower and wheat, which represented life, prosperity and abundance, from U?ak, Turkey.

    The experience is a bit overwhelming so I’m happy I live in Istanbul so I can return and pick out a hali that I really love! =)
    Joy (My Turkish Joys) wrote about..Bosphorus, Çay and the Kiz Kulesi

    • says

      Joy – I had my eyes on a Usak carpet as well but unfortunately I could not get him down to the price I wanted to pay. From what I learned the carpets from Usak are considered specialist and they often feature the tulip. Living in Istanbul, you certainly have your pick of shops to choose from
      Natalie wrote about..Dolmabahce Palace – The Last Days of the Ottoman Empire

  7. Cole @ Four Jandals says

    Love that so much of it is still hands-on! Hopefully we see some being made in a few weeks.
    Cole @ Four Jandals wrote about..Amsterdam Food Guide

    • says

      Yes, but I was a bit disappointed when I read the first comment from Catherine Cole – She says that some dealers are outsourcing to people abroad for cheaper prices. Kind of destroys the tradition if that is true. Do take some time to check them out when you are here.
      Natalie wrote about..I Love Istanbul and Here Are Five Reasons Why

    • says

      Seeing the women at work is great and you just have to admire their skill and patience

  8. says

    So cool to see how they are made. The carpet sellers are kind of my big worry of walking through markets in Turkey. I really dislike the aggressiveness of salesmen, regardless of what they are selling.
    Andrew wrote about..Baden-Baden in Pictures

      • says

        It wasn’t as bad as I expected in Turkey. It was annoying, but with Ali together we could just keep talking and walking and ignore it.
        I did get a new wallet in the Grand Bazaar. No clue if I got a good price, but I did haggle for it.
        Andrew wrote about..Germans and Birthdays

    • Nat says

      The silk carpets are amazing Pamela – The feel is so soft. When you see the work that has gone into them as well, you can not help but be amazed

    • Nat says

      Thank you Terri – glad you liked the pictures.The whole process really is fascinating

  9. says

    I took a tour of a carpet factory while in Turkey. It is really fascinating to learn about this process, and the history behind it. Thanks for making more people aware of this tradition and craft!
    dtravelsround wrote about..Daily Wanderlust: Kotor, Montenegro

    • says

      I like the tours as well D, just hat ethe bit when they shut the doors and try and get you to buy! :)

  10. says

    They’re all so beautiful – I wanted to take a hundred home when we visited but we couldn’t take anything. Luckily John has a few from his first trip. Excellent guide to the making and buying of these beautiful items.
    Andrea wrote about..Our First Ever Reader Survey

    • Nat says

      You are probably right Stephanie. Bargaining always had to be done when buying a carpet. Maybe the guide or the tour company was receiving a commission, that happens a lot of the time.

  11. says

    . . another good post and a good insight to the tradition. jand I love them and have collected a whole bunch over the years that litter our home and bring colour and tradition to most rooms.
    Alan Fenn wrote about..More Rabbit than Watership Down

    • says

      Collecting them can become quite addictive Alan. Glad you share the same appreciation for them

  12. says

    Beautiful post! I can’t believe how much work goes into these treasures. The colors of the wool alone are eye-popping! -Veronica
    The GypsyNesters wrote about..Life’s a Beach

    • says

      They are fantastic and the colors are wonderful considering it is all natural dyes

  13. says

    I love the pictures documenting the process of rug-making… we’re so used to everything being mass-produced nowadays, so it’s nice to see some things still being done in the traditional way! Also helps to appreciate the cost of the rugs – though your tips on negotiating the price are very welcome 😛
    Wanderplex wrote about..How far will my money take me?

  14. says

    Ah, now I can see why they are so expensive. Its a lot of effort and hard work. Frankly I don’t mind paying for something made of good quality. I’ll appreciate my parents’ Turkish rug even more. Love this interesting post!

    • says

      Expensive but you must still bargain at the same time Sherry. Glad you liked the post

  15. David Race says

    We have two at home in the UK and a biggish one in our place in Karabag.

    I personally favour Milas carpets as they are from our local area and the colours suit most settings. Last October I was offered a very large old carpet from our village of Karabag at a very good price but not having the readies was reluctant to commit myself. Needless to say by the spring it had gone, I should have left a deposit.

    In Turgutreis Ali Baba is your man for carpets, he speaks perfect English is polite and courteous and no pressure to buy.

    • says

      Glad you liked the article Sarita – I had a fun time learning about the carpet process as well

  16. says

    Hi Natalie
    You reminded me of the traditions of the patterns in the carpets. I bought some handmade carpets when I was in Iraq and yes, drank copious amounts of chai and smoked numerous cigarettes as well to get to a price. The carpets are beautiful especially the silk ones which were way outside my price range. The Turkish vendors had brought some silk ones in from Iran to sell and if I remember right, a prayer sized rug was quoted at a $1500 USD price.
    Great article. Hopefully someday I will have a place to use my rugs which are stored right now. :)

  17. Judy says

    Just read this piece. We love Turkish carpets and Kilims and have managed to amass 8 over the many visits we have made to such a wonderful country. The different regions and associated designs have taken up much research. Bargaining is quite an art.
    Really enjoy all your pieces. :)

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