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Buldan Cloth

The woman was singing the folksong beginning ‘Her scarf was edged with lace' as we entered. She was so absorbed in spinning that at first she did not notice us come in. She was in a hurry; it turned out, because her husband who was busy at the loom was about to run out of yarn. Suleyman's callused hands moved as nimbly across the loom as his wife’s worked at twisting the thread. Whichever house you visit in Buldan you first hear the sound of a song, and then notice a callused hand or one stained with henna. You find yourself in an age-old story, which has continued, unchanged for centuries. It is the story of Buldan cloth, each thread of which is the product of hard work and methods, which have been passed down from father to son and mother to daughter for countless generations. For the inhabitants of the town of Buldan in the western Turkish province of Denizli, weaving is a way of life. The town's history is closely associated with the fabrics woven here. The famous 14th century traveller Ibn Battuta said, 'Its bazaars are very fine, and in them are manufactured cotton fabrics edged with gold embroidery, unequalled in their kind, and long-lived on account of the excellence of their cotton and strength of their spun thread.' Buldan cloth is documented as being among the personal property of the first Ottoman sultan, Osman Gazi (1299-1324), and made into clothing worn by Sultan Murad I (1360-1389) and Sultan Bayezid I (1389-1402), and a shirt worn by the famous 16th century Ottoman admiral Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa. Today even more people than in the past make a living from weaving, though only a few from the old handlooms, which Suleyman still uses. Many have installed motorised looms in the basements of their houses or in outhouses, and many others work in the gigantic weaving mills. Hand weaving has trouble competing these days, but is still regarded as superior in quality. Pure cotton cloth accounts for the greatest part of the cloth woven here, while that made of silk is in decline due to the cost. Instead, artificial silk and polyster are used in increasing quantities. The soft and hardwearing Buldan cotton or silk cloth is made in beautiful colours, and the natural fibres allow the skin of the wearer to breathe. Preparing the cotton yarn for handmade cloth is a long and painstaking process, including washing, dyeing, and spinning. In the past the quality of Buldan cloth depended of course on the quality of the cotton, but equally on the natural dyes that were used, made from gallnuts, bay, walnut leaves, acorns, liquorice, chestnut, onion skin and the yellow berries of Rhamnus petiolaris. Chemical dyes have replaced all of these today, apart from the yellow obtained from acorns, for which each dyer has his secret formula. When the dyed yarn has dried it is wound onto bobbins, and then the weaving begins on traditional looms operated both by hand and foot. These handmade fabrics are more hardwearing than those produced on mechanised or factory looms, and the people of Buldan regret that their beloved handlooms are being ousted by mechanised modern looms. Traditional textiles woven on hand looms include the bath wraps known as pestamal, towels, sheets, tablecloths, handkerchiefs, and the large scarfs known as ustluk which local women tie not only around their heads but also around their waists. These come in a myriad type, embroidered, patterned or plain, and sometimes with the warp threads braided at the edges. The traditional woman’s robe known as ucetek, which is still worn by local women, particularly on special occasions, is frequently made from Buldan cloth, also known as burumcuk. Today this cloth is used to make various types of clothing, curtains and sheets. Although handmade sheets, for example, are hard to find these days, those made on mechanised looms differ only to the discerning eye. The typical Buldan sheets with fringes are available in plain, coloured and striped varieties, and sometimes have borders along the narrow ends, a type known as fitilli. The embroidery which used to be done by hand is also now machine worked in colour schemes predominantly featuring golden yellow, orange and brown. Traditional motifs including zigzags and kilim designs, and clover leafs, daisies, ears of wheat, magnolias, pomegranate flowers, lilies, tobacco flowers and tulips.



* Abdullah Kilic is a journalist

Source: Skylife 07/2001