Preserving Tradition: The Story Behind the Turkish Towel

Located in Central Turkey, a small group of artisans daily dedicate their time, attention, and creativity towards weaving Turkish towels and bath sheets. From the beginning of the process, such as harvesting the cotton, to the end result of a quality and hand-woven product, the story of how these towels are made reflects the skillfulness of the artisans as well as a cultural hallmark of family trade and tradition.Sadie is standing, holding a green Turkish towel along one edge and at a slight angle in front of her so that the pattern is visible.

The history of Turkish towels dates back to as early as the 13th century as the Ottoman Empire fused Roman plumbing and Indian baths to create the Turkish Hammam, otherwise known as a public bath. The hammam towel, also referred to as a bath sheet or peshtemal, was introduced alongside hammam baths as the towel was intentionally designed with thinner fabric to dry more quickly than a normal towel. As a result of this creation and Turkey’s rich textile industry, the specialization of weaving these towels created a family trade, and in most cases, the work was completed multi-generationally. This tradition continued well into the 20th century until the international dawn of factories and machination, which consequently forced many families out of work due to the timeliness of machines. Unlike weaving on a shuttled loom, which can take anytime between a few hours to a few days to complete, a machine-made towel can be completed within thirty minutes.

Despite the declining presence of Turkish weaving, the artisans that have partnered with AlterNarrative carry on the heartbeat of this centuries old trade. The integrity of these artisans is evident in each step of the process. The process begins by harvesting local, organic cotton and then inputting the cotton to a spinning machine to produce threads. These threads are then dyed in various different colors depending on the collection, and the loom is utilized to complete the weaving process. Depending on the product, the time frame on the loom is roughly a day for hand towels and two to three days for towels. The Turkish towel is made using a three dimensional loom which creates extra long loops to produce a thicker and fluffier product. The thinner bath sheet is woven on a flatter loom in order to reduce the amount of knots and fabricate the historically thin and absorbent material. The names of the towels on Alternarrative’s website are a creative endeavor by the couple that ships the towels to the United States. According to the design of the weave and the colors, the towel is then named after a city in Turkey. The naming process is according to characteristics of the region they are located in, including the dark Black Sea and bright Mediterranean Sea regions.A blue, Turkish towel drapes over the side of a clawfoot bath tub inside of a small bathroom. Next to the bathtub is a small cabinet and a snake plant.

This artistic process has promoted a hospitable and generous culture as it requires the help of various people, specializations, and places. The couple that serves as the direct supplier for AlterNarrative highlights that “Other cultures have beautiful things to give to the world,” as they have been able to experience the creativity and hospitality of Turkish culture. Specifically for the Turkish artisans, they have given the world a beautiful product as well as an admirable story of preserving trade and tradition.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published