TURKISH CARPET BUYING GUIDE
Buying a Turkish carpet or rug is a gamble, but the payoff can be huge.
The information gap between buyer and seller is as wide as the Grand Canyon. In this guide our aim is to narrow that expanse to a manageable width. In the video we go to Ikman Galeri in Goreme and interview Serkan Ikman, a 3rd generation expert. Along with the video (we think 35 minutes is not much time when you are about to spend thousands of dollars), you will find much helpful information below. Be sure to let us know about your experience by leaving a comment. Consider it your service to the community.
BUYING A TURKISH CARPET?
Many people visiting Cappadocia leave with a Turkish carpet or rug. Is this part of your plan?
I cannot think of a better way to cement your time in Cappadocia in your long-term family history than with one of these pieces of art displayed in your home or office. Your grandkids will still be using it when they are your age, and it will be as beautiful as it was when you bought it!
DON’T GET RIPPED OFF!
However, there is a problem. A large percentage of carpet buying tourists are at the mercy of the salesman who wants to get as much money as possible out of them. They spend much more than they need to, especially if they buy in Istanbul. You will get a much better value in Cappadocia if you know what you are doing.
I have heard of people who paid $10,000 for a carpet in Istanbul only to find out they could have purchased its equal for $3000 in Cappadocia. Let that sink in.
Now, if you know what you are doing, buyer’s remorse will not be a worry. Let me explain the system you are entering, a system of commissions. You probably think that the price reflects the carpet plus the expenses of the shop. Usually that only tells half the story.
UNDERSTANDING THE SYSTEM
I am probably going to get in trouble for telling you this, and if you are with a tour group, then you are stuck in the system. But if you are shopping apart from a group, then you need to understand this. The prices you see in many of the big shops reflect the commissions that have to be paid to the tour agency, the tour guide, the hotel that recommended that shop, and maybe more people. On top of that the expectation of negotiating increases the price. All of this is to say that you should immediately take off 30% from the quoted priced and then go down from there. If you are in Istanbul make that 50%.
How can you do that and not get laughed out of the shop? The rest of this post will explain what you need to know to get the perfect carpet for your tastes and preferences at a fair price.
10 CARPET CHARACTERISTICS YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND
If you want to avoid remorse and make the carpet shopping experience positive, read on. Below you will find 10 features to consider when buying a Turkish carpet or rug.
Before going to the carpet shops you need to think through what you want and what you want to spend.
1. PRICE: The first rule is to never tell the seller what your budget is. Telling them will guarantee that you end up with a carpet for that price whether the carpet is worth that much or not. Also, recognize that the seller expects you to negotiate and the initial price takes this into account.
2. SIZE: What size carpet do you want? The better you know the size, the better service you will get because the seller knows that you are serious. Ideally, you can measure the space before you leave your house. Remember that they use the metric system here so measure in meters.
3. MATERIAL: Turkish carpets are made of wool, cotton, silk, or a combination. Silk is the most expensive with the wool-cotton combination generally being the least expensive. Another price delineator regarding the material is the quality of the materials used. Hand spun wool and silk are much more valuable than machine spun fibers. You can feel the difference. The price difference can be 2-4 times more for the better material (all other things being equal).
4. TYPE: There are basically four types of Turkish rugs or carpets. The Turkish words are Halı (rug with pile), Kilim, Cicim (pronounced jee-jeem), and Sumak. The halı is probably what you are thinking of when you read Turkish rug/carpet. This fits everything from prayer rugs to big living room rugs with intricate motifs. They are thicker (pile) due to the double knot method of production. The kilim (basic flat weave), cicim (flat weave plus extra wrapping), and sumak (flat weave, extra wrapping, and embroidery) are are all made without knots so that they are thinner and lighter. These are used as wall hangings as well as throw rugs and come in many sizes, colors, and motifs. (The video clearly highlights the differences.)
5. COLOR: As with size knowing the colors you want in your carpet will help your seller to better serve you. But when it comes to price, beauty, and duration the type of dye used is important. Natural dyes are more valuable and hold the color better than chemical dyes. Also, if you spend enough time looking, you will realize that different regions tend to use different colors.
6. STYLE/MOTIF: What do you see when you look at a Turkish carpet? The obvious answer is colors and shapes. Every shape and color has a meaning, a purpose, tells a story. Experts can glance at a carpet and immediately know its region of origin and the story its creator wanted to tell. Perhaps the young woman wanted a blessing of fertility or protection over her house. Or maybe she was hoping for peace and love in her coming marriage. Or more likely she wanted a bit of everything and mixed it all in the design of the carpet. Be sure to take the time to discover the story told in the hieroglyphs of your chosen masterpiece. However, this is only true for older carpets made by women who planned to use them in their homes. The patterns on newer carpets handmade by women working in “factories” for big carpet shops do not have the same significance.
7. AGE: Another important characteristic is age. Of course, the older the carpet, the more vaulable it is as the note above about “factories” makes clear. The older carpets made in the villages are antique works of art, and their price reflects this. However, the newer carpets can still be high quality, but you must realize the differences in the two products. One was made for a home with much care and purpose while the other was made (with much skill) to be sold to a foreign tourist. In the end you will buy what you like, but for some people the backstory affects the enjoyment.
8. HANDMADE?: This is probably the biggest price differentiator but there is a caveat you should be aware of. Most people ask if the carpet is handmade not understanding that there are two kinds of handmade rugs. The most expensive carpets are made by young women in the mountain villages of Anatolia, Iran, and Central Asia. They use natural dyes and hand-spun wool or silk. However, today very few carpets are still made this way. More common now are small workshops that employ women to make carpets (described above). The difference is difficult to see for the novice, but for those who know, it is clear. This is one of the key ways that tourists are taken advantage of. I expect your salesman will tell the truth if you ask a direct question. If this is important to you, ask whether it was made in a workshop or village home. It will give you some negotiating power. Also, an easy way to tell if it is really handmade is to look for defects. Check the corners and other details. If it is handmade it will not be perfect. Machines can only make it perfect.
9. REGION: One of the ironies of Turkish carpets is that many of them do not come from Turkey. The average Turkish carpet seller will have rugs from Anatolia, Iran (Persia), Afghanistan, Armenia/Caucasus, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. They each have a distinctive style and feel and within a few minutes you can expect to recognize the differences.
10. PRODUCT – WORK OF ART, CULTURE, HISTORY: Lastly, the most important aspect of buying a Turkish carpet is to recognize that you are not buying a carpet only. You are buying history, culture, art, and a story (when you buy an old carpet – made before 1970). The good salesmen know the people who made their carpets. They can tell you about their lives, and the region in which they live. If the age is clear, then you can easily learn about what was going on during that time. In the end you have a piece of art to display in your home or office, a conversation starter that will bring hours of enjoyment for years to come. In the end if you are happy with your purchase, than you did not get ripped off.
My recommendation is to shop around, go to the authentic stores (not the places that every bus load of tourists goes to), buy something you like, and then do not shop at other places. Be sure to let us know about your experiences.
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