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Handmade fabric traditions in the modern world
2002 / AUGUST

In the heart of the mountain region of Turkey's southwest coastal area in the Muğla municipality of Muğla, abundant in agricultural and archaeological riches, is a peaceful place where one can experience village life as it has been for centuries. Üzümlü village (Village of Grapes) is so called because of the prolific growth of grapes in a place where other fruits are difficult to cultivate because of the arid climate and high altitude. Üzümlü is about 40 kilometres from the largest town in the area, Fethiye, and attracts local attention not only for the character of the village itself, but because of its closeness to the important site of the beautiful Lycian ruins at Cadianda. Seeing the village for the first time with the eyes of a Londoner who has lived in this area for a number of years, the first thing which struck me was the traditional houses. The village has a lively centre, with 'kirathanes' (coffee shops), municipal buildings and a market on Fridays.

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Handmade fabric traditions in the modern world
2002 / AUGUST

The winding streets are lined with old whitewashed stone houses adorned with wooden 'cumba' balconies which overhang the street, and door and window frames painted rich Aegean blue or bright yellow, attractively weathered by wet winters and long, hot summers. The character of the village is, for me, defined not only by the simplicity and charm of its architecture. An intrinsic part of life in the village is the production of beautiful finely woven fabrics: the 'dastar'. Most houses contain a full-size wooden loom (tezgâh) and every other apparatus for transforming wool, cotton and silk into a variety of fine fabrics. Many of the looms have been handed down from generation to generation; from mother in law's mother in law to their current day incumbents over periods spanning up to 150 years. New 'tezgâh' are built to order by a carpenter in the village for around 40 dollars apiece. There is even a small factory in the centre of the village which uses modern techniques to produce fabric. Dastar fabrics have a distinctive generic style, though each piece produced is completely unique.

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Handmade fabric traditions in the modern world
2002 / AUGUST
The fabric is generally made from cotton, wool or silk produced by traditional methods. Cotton is cultivated on the plains below the village, and once this is harvested it is factory processed, and often dyed a variety of colours, before it is spun by hand in Üzümlü to prepare it for the loom. Once the base cloth has been woven, in one colour, or checked or striped, and while it is still stretched on the loom, intricate regular patterns based on a square design are sewn by hand onto the cloth. These designs are generally based on traditional patterns but are just as likely to be concocted as the piece develops. This last stage in the process is particularly time consuming, since the designs are sewn in thread by thread and the number of stitches are carefully calculated - one stitch out, and the whole design is ruined. Silk based fabrics are a particular local speciality. Silk worms are bred in the village and it takes around 30.000 'kozas' (chrysalises) to produce 30 kilos of raw silk.
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Handmade fabric traditions in the modern world
2002 / AUGUST

Dastar has many uses: beautiful headscarves, curtains, bedcovers and even clothes (which are often sold to tourists visiting the village). Considering the fashionable status of natural look materials in tody'si booming interior design industry, there is most definitely a place in tody'si marketplace for such high quality, completely unique pieces of work. The women responsible for this art say that it is quite simply their way of life. They rise in the morning, and after attending to the needs of the family, sit down at the loom and spend the day weaving. It is a way of life, a way to fill time, but they now want to expand that into a way to earn money. "Many of the 'handcrafted' fabrics sold locally are imported to the area from big fabric manufacturers to be sold at very low prices. Surely our work is worth more than that?" they say. Considering that a table cloth measuring 80 cm square can take up to three days to complete, they have a good point.

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Handmade fabric traditions in the modern world
2002 / AUGUST

The village is slowly changing: the area close to Fethiye is becoming increasingly popular as a tourist destination, and visitors to the village come by truck safari, or on tours designed to demonstrate the traditional village way of life. As a village, the inhabitants greet with open arms every opportunity to update their lives. A number of European families now own houses in and around the village, and the changes they bring with them are welcomed by the women with whom I spoke. The new inhabitants, however, want the village to stay the way it is, valuing the peace and traditional atmosphere so different from their native homes.

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Handmade fabric traditions in the modern world
2002 / AUGUST

The question now is how the village can adapt to these changes without losing that quality; ensuring that the 'weft' of modern culture, as it is woven into the 'warp', the intrinsic character of the place, complements and preserves those traditions which make life in this part of the world so rich and colorful.

* Karen Harvey Küçük is a freelance writer


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