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Weaving exuberant elegance: Kutnu
2002 / FEBRUARY

'Binnaz Nene lived in a wooden house. All summer long she would sit at her spinning wheel in the garden, using the old willow tree as a canopy. Patiently, to the creaking sound of the wheel, she would spin enough thread for an enormous shawl and some kilims... They made the acquaintance of Binnaz Nene's third generation spinning wheel when their balls landed in her garden. Taking advantage of her absence they would turn the spinning wheel upside down so that the wheel was on the ground instead of in the air, and push it around. Before long a commotion would break out in the garden as Binnaz Nene appeared holding a cup of frothy ayran and the children fled. With an expression combining anger and affection, Binnaz Nene would watch them go.' This passage from Sadri Ertem's novel When the Spinning Wheels Stopped describes a time now gone for ever. No grandmothers spin thread any longer and no modern children would find any entertainment value in a spinning wheel.

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Weaving exuberant elegance: Kutnu
2002 / FEBRUARY

The spinning wheels which spun thread for ehram and kutnu fabrics in a myriad patterns have long since been abandoned in attics, along with the handlooms. The satins, velvets, bürümcük, muslins, coarse striped cottons, silk and cotton brocades, printed muslins, broadcloth, woollen cloth, shawls, waistbands, cicims, silis and sumaks, felts and countless other handmade textiles and rugs are almost forgotten. But kutnu is more fortunate than the rest, since in the Turkish province of Gaziantep a few elderly weavers are endeavouring to keep this traditional fabric alive. Kutnu has been woven in Gaziantep since the 16th century, and in the past many people all over Anatolia aspired to own a kaftan made from it. Possessing both the elegance and magnificence suited to royal attire, it was worn by the Ottoman sultans, and lengths of kutnu are frequently listed in palace registers of gifts presented to them. Kutnu's fame spread beyond the bounds of the Ottoman Empire to Europe and even America, as we see from its appearance in trade agreements with the United States.

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Weaving exuberant elegance: Kutnu
2002 / FEBRUARY
Trade with Britain was also brisk, and when supplies of kutnu failed to keep up with demand British weavers unsuccessfully attempted to imitate it according to Pretextat Lecomte in Les Arts et Metieres de la Turquie de l'Orient, published in Paris in 1902. Kutnu is made of silk dyed with vegetable dyes, and is characterised by alternate shiny and matte stripes, and designs of various motifs, particularly flowers. Although rarely made of pure silk today, since the cost is too high for most customers, the technique is the same. First the bobbins of warp thread are rewound into hanks, using a piece of equipment known as a devere. Next comes the dyeing, which is the most important stage, and today in Gaziantep just one dyer remains.
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Weaving exuberant elegance: Kutnu
2002 / FEBRUARY

Having been soaked in cauldrons of boiling dye and dried, the hanks are sent to craftsmen known as mezekçi, who check the thread for weak points and remove short fibres so that it does not break during weaving. The thread is then combed and is ready to be woven. Although traditionally woven on handlooms, this is both laborious and time-consuming, so most weavers use motorised looms today. These fabrics in diverse patterns are sold to drapers all over Turkey, including those in the Kapaliçarsi or Covered Bazaar in Istanbul, where large quantities are sold to both local customers and tourists.

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Weaving exuberant elegance: Kutnu
2002 / FEBRUARY

The different types of designs each have their own name, such as sultan, mecidiye, hindiye, kemha, darica, zincirli, sedefli and çiçekli. Golden yellow, which shows off the gloss of the fabric to maximum effect, is the predominant colour. Next comes red, followed by purple, green, maroon, blue and black. The colours, although bright, are combined with exquisite harmony, never clashing. In Gaziantep and many other places in Turkey, clothes made of kutnu are still preferred for special occasions. It is also used for folk dancing costumes, and even as furnishing fabrics for upholstery, cushion covers and curtains.


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Weaving exuberant elegance: Kutnu
2002 / FEBRUARY

Kutnu fabric has been woven since the 13th century, reaching the highest production levels in the late 19th century, when exports flourished. Until the 1960s nearly three thousand looms were still weaving kutnu in the province of Gaziantep alone, but today the last surviving elderly weavers are striving to preserve this ancient traditional fabric from extinction. With demand buoyant there is reason to hope that they will succeed.



* Abdullah Kiliç is a journalist

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