Textile romantics cannot bear to throw anything away. Especially vintage fibers that have been handspun and dyed, then woven into a rug using the knowledge gained by tradition, communicating the patterns of a timeless heritage. The pride and talent of an anonymous Anatolian woman, someone we’ll never know, leaves a spirit within the carpet we still feel.
Wandering the lanes that radiate out from Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, we’ve discovered rooms full of woven bits and fragments, or rugs complete but for missing corners or random holes. Rugs once lovingly used, but now faded, worn and stained; heirlooms of another time brought to Istanbul long ago from the village, no longer valued by the descendants of the weavers and likely traded for ready cash.
The carpet sellers of Istanbul – not the hustlers in for a quick buck from the endless stream of tourists – but those true lovers who cannot live without their daily dose of handwoven beauty, are a reinventive bunch. In the midst of a carpet-selling lull several years ago, one such enterprising carpet dealer, well known locally by the nickname of “crazy”, decided to take a pile of carpets like these and toss them into a dye bath, just to see what would happen.
After much trial and error, as the story goes, he hit upon a way to remove some dye from the original rugs, retain some original pattern but recolor them, giving tired old pieces an entirely new appearance. By doing so, he started a trend that revived the carpet trade throughout Turkey, and beyond to other countries that weave.
While in Selcuk, we fell under the spell of repurposing these faded beauties to give them new life. That spirit of renewal felt familiar as we moved to Istanbul 2 years ago. We never quite know what to expect when we dye rugs (or change homes), since those with similar origins may turn out looking quite different from one another after the rejuvenation process. Like trying on clothing to give the wearer a new style, each rug takes on a new persona in ways unique to its own history and character.
Those who have tried to overdye new rugs cannot get a similar richness in color and wear. We’d like to think that’s because these older rugs, with wools and dyes that have mellowed over the decades, still contain that spirit from their weaver, her past and the traditions of her people.
It takes time, experience and healthy doses of trial and error to reinvent, whether it’s a vintage rug, a meaningful business or our ever-evolving lives. But we do know that such transformation rarely lacks for color.