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THE STORY OF RUSH WEAVING
2001 / SEPTEMBER

If we knew about the long and difficult process by which rushes are transformed into the rush beach mats we spread on the sand, rushwork umbrellas which provide welcome shade in the hot sun, rush mats we lay in our houses, and elegant rush-seated furniture, we would certainly treat them with more respect. I must admit that not until I photographed the story of rush weaving did I realise the intensive labour involved.
I happened to be driving past Masukiye 10 kilometres from Sapanca one day when some great golden stacks caught my attention. Around them were four people busy at work. Curious to discover what was going on I stopped and went over, camera in hand. They explained that they were gathering rushes from the reedbeds beside Lake Sapanca to send back to their home town, Bolvadin, nearly 300 kilometres to the south. These four members of the same family were living in a makeshift tent consisting of a tarpaulin stretched beneath a tree. Bolvadin is a town near Lake Eber in Turkey's Lake District, famous for its many lakes of various sizes,

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THE STORY OF RUSH WEAVING
2001 / SEPTEMBER

its marshes, reedbeds and migratory birds. Since these lakes do not supply sufficient rushes suited to weaving, however, they travel all the way to Lake Sapanca every summer.
Over the next few months I photographed the family at every stage in the process of transforming rushes into finished articles, from rush cutting to weaving. Early every morning the men would board their long narrow punts and glide away among the reeds, propelling themselves along with long poles. For hours they would cut the rushes, wading up to their waists in water, and when they returned hours later, the boats would be laden with neatly tied bales. All day they worked amidst the tall reeds and rushes, some species of which are several times a man's height. I used to get up early and accompany them. We glided silently through the tall reeds with their yellow tassels at the tips which rose like a curtain, creating a horizonless world of their own. Only the blue sky was visible high above us, and the only sound was the rustle of the reeds

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THE STORY OF RUSH WEAVING
2001 / SEPTEMBER

in the breeze, or sometimes a folksong sung by the men as they worked.They explained that the annual rush cutting thins out the reedbeds which would otherwise take over the lake in time, turning it gradually into marshland. So this is a case where human activity and nature create a beneficial ecological balance. The rushes must not be cut in late winter or spring, however, when the reedbeds provide essential shelter for the birds which breed here. Four months a year are spent cutting reeds and spreading them out to dry, which takes at least ten days, depending on the weather. Then they heap them into the golden yellow stacks which I had seen that first day.
Finally the rushes were loaded onto four or five trucks and sent home to Bolvadin. And I set out in pursuit to complete my story. A few hours later I was in the city of Afyon, and soon afterwards I had reached Bolvadin 90 kilometres away. The first thing I noticed in Bolvadin was the heaps of dried rushes in the gardens of almost every house, ready to be woven. I

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THE STORY OF RUSH WEAVING
2001 / SEPTEMBER

rose early the following morning to take photographs, but the people of Bolvadin were already up and hard at work. While the men do the harvesting and drying, the women are responsible for the weaving. Rushes are also harvested from the nearby Lake Eber, and those of lower quality unsuited to weaving are sold to the local paper mill. But the people told me that the price is very low, and hardly worth the work involved.
The dried rushes are cut into standard lengths, and the irregular lengths discarded. They are then beaten against boards of long nails to separate the fibres, which are spun into cord and wound into large balls. The rush is now ready for weaving into matting on outdoor looms consisting of four posts knocked into the ground.

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THE STORY OF RUSH WEAVING
2001 / SEPTEMBER

Interspersed with numerous glasses of tea, I conversed with the local people as they worked. They told me that rush matting is also woven in the village of Mutlu near Lake Beysehir in Konya. It is there that the finest rush mats for use on the beach are made. So that is the story of rushwork. It was fascinating to watch all the different stages, and having seen all the effort that goes into them, I now treasure mine as I never did before. So if you want to see it for yourself, head for the reedbeds, and do not forget to take your camera.

* Cemil Agacikoglu is a photographer.

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