In 2004, I traveled across Western Turkey from Istanbul, South to Bodrum then North through Cappadocia in the Anatolian mountains. It was before starting college and before the beginning of my career.
Throughout my trip I noticed beautifully woven fabric that the locals took to the beach or worn as a shawl. I later found out that they were called Pestemals, a traditional towel made of the softest Turkish cotton. In our latest collaboration, the studio has developed its own version of the traditional Pestemal, larger in size with a pattern that is recognized and used throughout history and by all cultures, the check.
Nestled in the Aegean region of Turkey, near the ancient Greek ruins of Laodicea on the Lycus, our Checker throw is made by artisans who continue the traditional art of weaving, where skills are passed down through the generations. We caught up with Nergis Altun and Kaan Osmancik, the newest generation of artisans keeping these skills alive to ask a few questions, and what sets Turkish cotton apart from other cottons.
Nergis Altun & Kaan Osmancik
1. You are based in Istanbul, but where are the throws made?
All of our pieces are made in a small village outside Denizli, located in the Aegean region of Turkey. The area is known for the ancient Greek ruins of Laodicea on the Lycus. In the 1st century B.C. it was a center for textiles, and today the city of Denizli has a large textile industry.
2. How did you become involved in weaving?
We are proud of our heritage and culture. Weaving has a long tradition and the artistic skills continue to be passed down from father to son. Turkey (Anatolia or Asia Minor as its known historically) has a rich history to draw from, and textiles were the starting point for us.
3. Where do you get your yarns from and how are they treated?
We only use Turkish cotton, which is known for its quality. The cotton is grown in the Eastern Mediterranean region of Turkey where the climate is sunny with very little rain, which is the perfect environment for growing cotton. The yarns are then finished and dyed in Denizli without any chemical treatment.
4. What are the qualities of Turkish Cotton compared to other cottons?
Turkish cotton has long and narrow fibers which gives a higher thread count per square inch. It also has a natural shine, is very absorbent and incredibly soft. Because of these natural qualities, it undergoes less chemical treatment than other cottons.
5. The loom is vital in creating these beautiful throws. Can you tell us more about the looms you use?
We have three kinds of looms and we use all of them to give different effects and touches. We have wooden handlooms that have been used for centuries in Turkey; these looms have been passed down through the generations, hence the origin of the word, “heirloom”. The second looms are vintage from the 1940s, and the third are Swiss made automatic looms manufactured between 1975 and 1985 called Sulzer Looms.
6. You collaborated with 5TH26 in creating an oversized throw. How was the experience and what were the challenges?
The experience was great and we learned a lot from each other. Brandon has a clear vision of what he wants, and was very involved in the process. He is knowledgable about the loom which makes it easier for us to speak the same technical language.
The samples took a lot of time to develop because even though the classic checker pattern is simple, it is difficult to guarantee that each square's measurement is exact because of the hand and mechanic process it takes to make each piece. Furthermore, the size of the throw is custom for 5TH26 so it was hard to control how the fibers will react. As a result, we had to establish tolerance for each square, so actually no two pieces are alike!
7. What do you find most challenging and rewarding about working with textiles?
Rather than perceiving it as a job or a business, we accept is as an art form. We want to keep Turkey’s traditional craft alive and be able to modernize and take it forward. To achieve this gives us energy and great reward.
8. What inspires you and your work?
We are inspired by nature. The texture of leaves or the form of a plant can inspire us. Also, all details of life: a good film, a trip to a historical city, or travel somewhere with scenic beauty can motivate and inspire us.
9. You live and work in Istanbul, one of the most beautiful, cultural and exotic countries in the world. Can you tell us what you like the most and least about it?
In recent years, Istanbul has become a metropolis rather than a city. The population has over 15 million inhabitants. Because it’s so vast, we feel that it lacks nature and green spaces. Having said that, Istanbul has the Bosphorus and when we see and feel the water it re-charges us.
The energy of Istanbul is like no other. It is the only city that rests on two continents and each side, whether Asia or Europe has a different energy.