Thursday, 6 March 2014

A Patriarch's Wish, Fulfilled

One of the families that create some of the flat-woven pieces sold by Jennifer’s Hamam is an interesting one.  They come from a long line of very famous weavers. The oldest son – and head of the family – has always been interested in working on unusual creative projects and on one of Jennifer's trips to visit during a normal discussion about what project they would be working on next,  a call came in. The family patriarch was arriving.

At 75 years old and retired for more than 20 years, their father was still renowned as one of Turkey’s most famous weavers.   As he entered the workshop, the crew of people in the workshop, stood at attention as if an emperor had entered. The respect in the air could be cut with a knife.

When this weaver retired, the sons took over the business and the eldest son - who Jennifer  normally works with - was bound and determined to modernize his father's workshop.  He saved money and bought small factory machines to do their looped towels.  The pestamel side of the workshop though, had not been updated. During Jennifer's first meeting with the eldest son, he boasted about plans to update the pestamel side of the workshop as well.  Jennifer insisted that if he did this, they would not be able to work together.  This statement shocked him, but also forced him to reconsider keeping the looms he had.   Today he still has those looms for flat-woven pestamel and Jennifer's Hamam keeping 'click-clacking' away with beautiful designs.

Over the last 4 years of working together they now formed a standard 'joke' greeting; "Ah, you've come to buy looped towels today?"  the son asks Jennifer.  Jennifer always answers "Oh! you must have smashed your small factory machines and bought looms."   They both laugh and then continue their discussions about hand-woven pestamel.

Though shrunken by age and one side of his back hunched, the patriarch was still a lively man.  The youngest son, led his father over to the middle of the workshop where they had cleared an area and set two chairs.  He sat down and to Jennifer's utter surprise, the weaving legend, who she had heard much about, but never had the privilege to meet prior to this moment, called her over to sit in the chair next to him.  

He was incredibly polite and extremely gracious.  He chain-smoked and drank cup after cup of hot tea throughout the conversation which at first centered on family, as is the culture in Turkey, and then turned to weaving.  Jennifer told him that she believed the only way to save the art of weaving was to create things that could not be recreated on the factory machines and to use threads that were of the best quality possible.

The older man turned to his eldest son and said, “SEE!  This is what I’m always telling you!   You must throw away those modern monstrosities and go back to the old ways!”   

He started sending some of the other younger family members in the workshop out on errands.  “My son, go get this!  Go get that!” 

Several amazing pieces were delivered and, one by one, he started to talk about them.  Jennifer was completely entranced: the pieces were so amazing - unlike anything she had ever seen before.  The newest of the three pieces was 45 years old; the oldest piece was around 55 years.   

The piece that really caught her attention was two layers woven together and with multiple colors across one weaving line. The father launched into an explanation of the looms on which these pieces had been woven and, in the middle of this, said casually that he would take Jennifer to see them one day.  She was astonished that the looms still existed and was so shocked, she rudely interrupted him and asked just to check that she understood correctly "you still have the looms that are capable of this?"

“Yes, yes! The boys put them in storage, but I wouldn’t let them sell them.”  he answered.   Quite literally, Jennifer's head was swimming with ideas.  The next hour was devoted to the possibility of bringing these looms back to life.

Under strict orders by his father, by January 2012, the eldest son had obtained a new space for the express purpose of working on these looms and getting them up and running again.  The fact that they had been in storage for 30 years, made them a repair man's nightmare.  

All the same, Jennifer was thrilled with the news.  While the father was no longer capable of weaving, he was definitely involved in pushing his sons to resurrect the old looms.  A few months later, the looms were missing just a few essential parts before they could regain full functionality. The patriarch was excited about the repairing and for the first time in 20 years, was going to the workshop regularly to oversea the work of the repairman.  Every time Jennifer would visit, he would tell her, "Don't you worry Miss Jennifer, these looms are going to be running in no time; I will personally see to it and ensure that my sons don't stop this work."  Time passed: the oldest son supported the project but more as a filial duty than out of his own conviction.

And then terrible news in the summer of 2012: the father had died.  The family was completely devastated and so was Jennifer. There was an enormous turnout at the funeral for this well-respected craftsman.  Jennifer made a special trip out to the village to also pay her respects.  It was truly heart-breaking and the sons were completely devastated. 
For the next few months, no work was done; depression was looming over everyone and they couldn't seem to find the motivation to work at all. The family continued to mourn as fall and even winter hit.  Jennifer visited several times; the younger sons were at work looking very solemn, but the eldest son had not shown his face in months.  She was at a loss as how to move forward due to the fact that  even during her visits, the younger sons could not convince him show up to the meetings.   

Finally, on a visit in late in the following January, Jennifer spent a week in the village and pushed the younger sons to take her to their older brother.   The meeting was essential because he was the only one that could make the decisions for the future of the families business and his father's looms.  They talked for hours about his father and how important this work.   Tears running down his face, he apologized for his laziness over the last months; he said that his sorrow had taken over and then he announced to her his vow that he would spend every waking moment ensuring these 2 looms worked again in tribute and honour of his father's career as a weaver.  Jennifer left from that trip with a full heart, moved by his words and his new found dedication for the past ways.  

The eldest son kept his word and went beyond by turning all of the factory machine work over to his younger brothers and focusing only on the loomed items.

At the beginning of March, 2013, a package was delivered to Jennifer’s Hamam in Istanbul. It was the first piece off the now-working old loom.

The son said:  "My father was correct:  we never should have put away the looms.  I will not work with my brothers on those machines anymore."

Jennifer's Hamam commends the son and his father.  It's weavers like this who will remind the world true beauty of textiles and the meaning they can have in our lives.

back side of the piece Jennifer's Hamam calls
front side of the piece Jennifer's Hamam calls

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Overview for 2012

It is difficult to believe that an entire year has passed.  Whether this is your first visit to Jennifer’s Hamam, or you have visited us before – in person or on the website - we thank each and every one of you for the efforts that you are making to ensure that Turkey’s few existing weaver families will have a livelihood come tomorrow.

Some of the highlights of the last year:

  • ·      The third Jennifer’s Hamam shop opened in the Arasta Bazaar in August 2012
  • ·      The first run of 2 kilogram towels was completed in October 2012 and sold out in two weeks. The next run is expected on the shelves in April/May 2013.
  • ·      Bedsheets are back! Some of the first bedsheet sets in linen are due to hit the shelf in another month; cotton will be later in 2013.
  • ·      One family of flat weavers moved into a much larger work space; one new loom was purchased for them
  • ·      Another family of flat weavers resurrected four old looms that were in storage and got them up and working.  These are specialized looms that can create much more complicated designs.  The largest of the four looms is being run by a woman, which is very unusual. The first blankets and pestamel from this loom arrived in November 2012.  The looms are still running this design and, slowly, each week a few more pieces come in.   Watch for future blogs about this family and one of the few commercial women weavers they employ.
  • ·      Senol – one of Jennifer’s Hamam’s senior sales staff – became a father in January 2013. (Congratulations, Senol!)
  • ·      Several foreigners were hired to help during the high season.

  • ·      More than 65,000 kilometers were put on the car - visiting weavers, buying threads, sourcing looms, and so on.
  • ·      Production was effectively doubled.

The ancient art of weaving in Turkey can be preserved by increasing production and bringing a sense of honor back into the profession. Hand-weaving a textile results in a higher-quality product than factory-made goods. It also benefits the family and the community, and decreases our carbon footprint on the planet.

The growth of Jennifer’s Hamam and the need to meet higher production numbers means that many looms now operate on shifts with two or even three weavers. Looms have been acquired and repaired. Some weavers have moved into larger spaces. Some weavers who had left the art have returned, once again working in a tradition they love.

This is just the beginning of what is hoped will lead to a true revival of weaving in Turkey. Your support, patronage and assistance in getting the word out is appreciated by the entire staff at Jennifer’s Hamam -and especially by the weaving families and their employees.

Many people in the villages have lost interest in this traditional craft because of what has happened to weaving over the last 19 years, but as demand for these goods increases, it will regenerate the art into something that is viable for young people to invest time and energy into learning.

The next 12 months are the time to forge ahead at full strength. Together we can have a real impact on the world and this art!

Thank you for your commitment to Jennifer’s Hamam and its products! Wishing all of you an outstanding 2013 for health, happiness, prosperity and abundance! 

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Silk - Part 2 - About the Family

In the late 19th century, a small community of French nationals lived in a village in Turkey’s southeast Mediterranean region, where they were skilled in the art of silk.

Meta, a weaver for Jennifer’s Hamam, is the great-grandson of a man who grew up in this village.

Dede Ahmet, Meta’s great-grandfather, learned how to reel and weave silk from his French neighbors in the village, experts in the traditional craft.

As World War I drew closer and alliances began to form, the French inhabitants of the village deemed it wise to leave Turkey. Dede Ahmet, who had proven to be a talented student, was gifted with a magnificent book made of copper pages: the processes for extracting silk from the cocoon were embossed in the copper.

Dede Ahmet was warned by the departing French to keep the book away from the Turkish government and other sources that might steal the secrets of silk. He was so concerned that the book and its secrets would fall into the wrong hands that, in the end, he committed the entire thing to memory and threw it into the fire, melting the beautiful copper pages.

Over the years Dede Ahmet passed his skills along to his children and the family earned their living raising silk worms, reeling and spinning by hand, dyeing and weaving the silk.

When Meta, was seven years old, he went into the backyard where his uncle was reeling silk and announced that he wanted to learn how to do this.   

In this area of the country, this is exactly the announcement awaited by master craftsmen in order to decide who to teach.   

The next years were not always easy. After Meta’s father and uncles died, he was the head of the family: it became more and more difficult to find buyers for the silk, and he and his wife sometimes had no money. 

 They persevered, even through winters where there was nothing to eat but root vegetables from the garden. On one occasion, Meta took bags of potatoes from the family’s meager provisions and traded the potatoes for pomegranates, to dye the silk he’d reeled that season – he had carried on weaving, despite difficult conditions.

By the time Jennifer met Meta, he was ready quit silk and move into cotton. Happily for the craft and the tradition, Meta was convinced to continue. He is the head of his family – and this is the last family in Turkey for textile silk to raise its own silk worms, reel and spin the silk by hand, and dye and weave the silk. Meta committed the process to memory years earlier, but is the first person in his family to record these traditions in writing for future generations. They are genuine silk experts but, sadly, the last of their breed.

Meta is extremely creative and his experience has given him great insight into what clients want in terms of design and color, though he also draws on his own influences.  He says that new designs usually come to him in his dreams; other than that, he does not offer other information about his inspiration.

Jennifer says she is very honored to be working with the family.  “I never knew anything about silk before meeting Meta; he’s taught me so much.   More than anything, I want to see this tradition taught to young people and carried on.”

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Silk - Part 1

May and June are very important months when it comes to the cycle of a silk worm's life.  There are many places around Turkey where silk worms are being raised; in fact, in the last five years there has been an enormous increase in the numbers of people cultivating silk worms. But there is only one family in the country still hand-spinning, reeling, dyeing and weaving the silk on old-style shuttled looms.  Jennifer's Hamam is grateful to be the only boutique in western Turkey working with this family.

silk wormsSilk is amazing – it is a natural protein fiber and it has a long history of use in the production of fabric and other items. Silks are produced by several other insects, but generally only the silk of moth caterpillars has been used for textile production: for more than 1,400 years, humans have been making use of this little worm's cocoon.

The silk worm's life is interesting, but short. It begins in February when his little egg comes out of stasis and begins the incubation process. Usually this takes place in small bags that each member of the weaving family keep in their breast pockets, which the weavers say provides the ideal temperature for incubation.

Silk worms eat mulberry leaves: the development of the worm and the blossoming of the mulberry leaves are in perfect harmony.  At this point the worms, now hatched, are placed in small boxes with mulberry leaves to feed on.  Over the next several weeks the body mass of each silk worm triples.

There are two ways to obtain fibres from the silk cocoon.

Reeling is a technique whereby live cocoons are placed in hot water, and boiled for five to ten minutes to kill the worm.  To get the highest quality silk, the temperature of the water must be lowered before the reeling begins, so cold water is added. A brush is used to catch a strand from each of the cocoons and the silk is pulled off the cocoon in a single strand while the cocoon is still in the hot water. Those strands then are moved to a simple roll-up apparatus that creates four bunches of silk threads.  

The silk reeling station used by the Jennifer’s Hamam silk weavers uses a wood fire to heat the water. The family explained that they tried using gas and electricity to heat the water, but those methods lowered the quality of the silk threads. 

Instead of trying to increase the water’s temperature, these weavers actually cool the water down in order to reel very slowly. This raises the quality and endurance of the silk.

In one 12-hour day, reeling the old way, and very slowly for quality, these weavers can reel approximately three kilograms of silk; these can be made into 25 scarves, for instance.

Most of today's silk production is very different from silk production of the past.  Almost everything made with silk in the present time is machine-reeled and most of the producers reeling silk with these machines put acid in the water to increase the boiling temperatures and thus the production.  While the addition of acid helps to reel the silk more quickly, it also affects the strand of silk. Anything made with this silk will not have the endurance of traditionally-reeled silk.

Most of the silk producers today are machine-reeling. Unfortunately, the primary objective of machine-reeling is usually to achieve the highest quantity possible of silk threads. Rather than decreasing the water temperature slowly to obtain quality threads, acid is added to the water. While this does enables faster reeling, and thus speedier production, the addition of acid weakens the silk strands: any item made from this silk will not last like items made from traditionally-reeled silk, and will fray and pill.

Pictured (on the right) is a cocoon where the moth has escaped.  The dark markings around the hole are created by the moth's acidic saliva. 

Cocoons that have already “hatched” cannot be used for reeling silk; however, they can be boiled, washed, hung in the sun to dry and then the soft fibers are spun into silk threads.  Items made from this silk have a very different texture and are much softer than their reeled counterparts, but the basic properties of the silk are still the same; silk is very warm - and yet it breathes.

Jennifer's Hamam's weavers use drop spindles to spin the silk.   This is also a very tedious task and requires days of work before there are enough threads to make a roll of warp threads or bobbins for weft threads.

The drop spindle is a very simple tool that gets rolled on the thigh of the spinner and then is dropped while the fibres above are spun into threads using the fingers.  Threads made from spinning have a softer touch, are more matte and thick than reeled threads.

Learn more about silk worms and the miraculous art of silk weaving in next month’s blog…

Friday, 16 March 2012

A Recap of 2011 with Jennifer's Hamam

2011 was an action-packed year for Jennifer’s Hamam!

A second Jennifer's Hamam shop was opened in the Arasta Bazaar (No. 43), three new staff members were hired and 25 new designs were created, produced and placed on the shelves. A new line of keses (bath mitts) made from tree bark were added to the collection, and design choices in peskir increased by 200%.

Since the beginning of 2011, all the designs are original, limited edition, and produced entirely in Turkey, by Turkish weavers practising an ancient – and almost forgotten – craft.

Jennifer travelled 35,000 kilometers in 2011: buying natural Turkish fibers for all the woven pieces, and visiting the weavers scattered mostly in the south and southeast of Turkey. On each trip to visit the weavers, she works with them closely, creating new designs, and selecting the thread colors and combinations to come up with unique and beautiful items that reflect quality from the past.

All of the textiles in both shops are hand-woven on old-style shuttled looms, by real human beings, from natural fibers all sourced and grown in Turkey, including GOTS certified organic cotton threads, linen, bamboo and silk. The towels, bedcovers, sheets, bathrobes, shawls and pestamels stocked in both shops take time to produce; the upside is that they last for decades longer than machine-made towels.

"It was really exciting when we completely sold out of colorful robes and bed sheets in 2011!" Jennifer shared. "Everyone feels a sense of urgency and excitement to keep up with this demand."

One of the many objectives for 2011 was to find more looms. Most of the looms that existed in Turkey have been sent to the scrap yard over the last 17 years and finding them is not always an easy task. It was a devastating experience in January 2011 when four looms were found with one man - but out of pride and ego he refused to sell them and instead, for pennies on the dollar, sent them to the scrap yard.

Later in the year, four more looms – including a smaller one for weaving looped towels - were found stored away in several old closed workshops, and purchased and repaired. As of the end of November 2011 all four are now operational with four new weaving staff. An extra two weavers - who were happy to return to their original craft – were also hired to increase the weaving hours on two of the looms from eight hours/day to 16 hours / day.

In late spring a new warehouse was purchased within walking distance of the shops to provide better service for wholesale clients. Due to some personal tragedy, the warehouse was rented out until December 2011, until the energy and effort could be put towards the renovation and setting up the space.

Thanks to numerous and glowing reviews on websites such as Trip Advisor, Lonely Planet and Google, listings on various blogs and great press in publications like Time Out Istanbul, Luxury in Istanbul, Cornucopia's 'good finds', many travel books such as Rough Guide and Lonely Planet, several local papers and even a newspaper in Canada, Jennifer, the weavers and shop staff have been very busy.

"The weavers are always telling me just how happy they are for the people who find their woven items beautiful enough to take home with them!" said Jennifer enthusiastically. "I'm thrilled because without a consumer who cares about better quality found in work done by humans, weaving would already be dead."
Jennifer’s Hamam thanks each and every customer for keeping one of Turkey’s oldest traditions alive and its artisans employed.

But it isn’t all work: one of the youngest weavers married last year, and had a baby in August. Another, who was close to bankruptcy when he started weaving for the shop, just bought his own apartment and had a second child in October after 10 years of marriage. And, their most senior staff member in the shop was engaged in 2011 and his wedding was just a month ago … Congratulations Senol!

As to 2012: Jennifer, the staff, and the weavers are energized for the season to come and all the hard work of the winter coming finally coming to fruition.

Renovations on the new warehouse are complete and all the product that the weavers have been hard at work making over the last year is slowly being moved into the new space. "'I'm very excited about this new warehouse. We were late getting to this project, but that it's finished in time for the season is fantastic!" This space will enable more storage of existing products and faster delivery time to the shops; and service wholesale clients in a more relaxed, larger space.

The human element is what is most important in this craft and cannot be forgotten. Thank you to all of you who have supported Jennifer's Hamam and its weavers in 2011. Watch for many great new things to come in 2012!!
written by: Celeste Ganderson

Friday, 25 March 2011

An Exciting Week for Jennifer's Hamam

March 5th, 2011 marked the grand opening of the 2nd location of Jennifer's Hamam
“We couldn’t be happier!!!” exclaimed Jennifer, owner.
“It’s all thanks to our wonderful customers who have chosen to support the art of weaving and the quality products made by this dying breed of artisans in Turkey.”

“The weavers that still exist in Turkey should be congratulated for persevering through this difficult time with their own dead market. These artisans have had to change their idea of business to match the needs of the outside world that is just beginning to wake up to the new-old idea of human made textiles. This is not always an easy thing to do when you've been doing the same thing for a very long time, but the weavers we work with have adjusted wonderfully!”

The new location is bright and welcoming. It carries the same wonderful quality woven textiles, but with a different flavours of designs and colours.“We don’t want to compete against ourselves; we want to expand our range and offer people more choice.” She says. If you can’t find what you are looking for in one shop, you’ll most certainly find it in the other.

Jennifer seems to care more about the education of her customers than she does her sales. She says that you can maybe make a sale by default without education, but you can never really get the market to purchase this kind of quality without a sincere dedication to educating each customer. She believes this is the reason why the two shops are so successful and why so many customers come back and recommend the product to their friends.

The new location is just a 3 minute walk from the original shop located at the other end of the ARASTA BAZAAR, No. 43, Sultanahmet, Istanbul. Both shops have a big Canadian flag in the window and are open 9am – 9pm during the high season. Be sure to visit when you’re in the area and ask for Jennifer.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

A new view for 2011

It's been a year and a half since our doors opened.  We've learned and grown a lot since that time.  The past year was a time for establishing our foundation and learning the business of weaving, especially in the area of woven towels with loops.  

Our goal was to acquire two more looms in 2010.  We are very excited to report we found another five! They have all been repaired and are up and running.  

Three of the looms went to our weaver, set up to accommodate the different sizes we make.  This is very exciting because prior to the acquisition of these looms, our weavers spent 2.5 days re-threading the looms each time we changed sizes.  This is a huge leap forward in our ability to produce more quickly.

The other two looms went to a family that weaves flat textiles.  After many conversations in 2010, we discovered that the grandfather of the family, now in his late 70s, used to weave with this style of loom.  The looms were given to them in late November 2010.  They have been repaired and the grandfather is now teaching the members of the family how to operate them. We're hopeful that by March we will start to receive pieces produced on these new-to-us looms. 

It's the beginning of a new year.  The fruits of seeds planted in 2010 are now ripening.   Any looped towel made on our looms will be run one at a time with a proper salvage.  All items made in 2011 will be our exclusive Jennifer's Hamam design.  Three of the families we were worried would stop weaving last year are continuing and feeling new hope for the future. 

So what's on the horizon?  

It's our goal in the next 3-5 years that we double the number of our looms working on our exclusive designs.   

In the next year, we will be approaching International colleges and universities to set up a program  to have students study with our silk weavers for 3 to 12 months.  This family, specializing in the precious but time-intesive silk work wants to give up the raising of silk worms, and the spinning, dying and weaving of silk.  Financially it's becoming a burden for them; finding reliable staff that won't steal their ideas is more and more difficult.  If they stop what they are doing and move on to other materials, such as cotton, the loss would be immeasurable.  A student program will benefit all parties and will hopefully be the first step to helping this family continue their art.

Another exciting idea came when an interested expat friend and her Turkish husband alerted us to a small group of Turkish women from the North-West of Turkey who are interested in learning how to weave.  At this point we have no idea how we will equip them with looms or who will be their teacher, but we will be on the scene trying to put this project together.