TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Monday, July 13, 2009

Vintage Weavings – to Restore or Not? by Catherine Salter Bayar

Vintage Turkish Cicim

Recently I had a great short conversation with another Fiber Focus member who mentioned she had done textile restoration for the US National Park Service. She and I agreed that vintage textiles, if repaired, should never show signs of this new work; the restorer should strive to make sure that her work is as unobtrusive as possible.

I personally love to see signs of usage in older kilims and carpets, as long as they are not in danger of completely unraveling. After all, these weavings were made to be used, not hung in a museum; wear is part of their history. But what should I do, if one of my customers disagrees with me and wants a ‘perfect’ vintage piece?

This was the case with an acquaintance who lives part of the year in our small Turkish town. I will call her G. She is an interesting, compassionate woman from a Northern European country who has been coming here to Selcuk for probably two decades now.

For the past several years, G has often visited our shop to chat when she was in town, and always purchases a piece of our handmade jewelry or a strand of beads before she left Selcuk. But each visit, she’d comment about a small old cicim I had draped over the armchair in which I sat.

“I really love that piece!” G would say, asking me about it. I knew it had been two sides of a Turkish donkey bag, though the longer ends have been unstitched. But this kilim was an interesting weaving combination I had not seen in a cicim before. Both sides use the fairly thickly spun, sturdy dyed wool typical of utilitarian cicims, but this time the weaver used the wool as the warp yarns (thick undyed cotton is more typical), then wove very thin undyed cotton through as weft yarns, creating a thin, slightly irregular ground cloth for the embroidered wool patterns worked on top.

Did the weaver just not have enough wool and opt for cheaper cotton? One end does have weft yards in the same red wool as the warp (below), but this appears to be the end where she started weaving. So maybe she was experimenting to see how this densely woven but quite thin piece would turn out.

That it is rather monochromatic is not common for a cicim either, which to me means this weaver may have had more sophisticated tastes than the usually riotously colored cicims. Or perhaps she did just not have access to more colors than this mellow red, grey, black and indigo wools and natural cotton she used. The shading variations in the ground are caused but more tightly packed sections of cotton weft yarns, an intentional play of texture I think, but we will never know her aim.

There are a few patched sections (below), though the patching is done in wool that looks exactly like the original wool yarn, making me ponder if these odd portions were also intentional and done in the original weaving? And yes, by now the edges are worn, the embroidery is a little asymmetrical and the patterns are not so well planned in spots!

In any case, I told G it was my favorite cicim and not for sale, since to me such a piece is rare and holds a special quirky charm in my eyes. Regardless, each visit she would ask me to sell it to her and each time I would decline.

This spring while I was in the US, G again came to our shop and asked my husband if she could buy the cicim. Since we happened to urgently need money that week, we decided to part with it. Abit and G agreed on a price; she gave him a deposit and took it away with her. Oh well, I thought. At least the cicim was going to someone who seemed to love it as much as I did.

But a week later, she came back to our shop and told Abit it was not worth the price they had agreed upon. She’d taken it to one of the local repair shops, and the man there had pointed out every frayed selvage, every worn spot and uneven hem, convincing her that it needed massive costly repairs. Worst of all, “He said it’s mostly cotton!” However, kilims commonly have cotton warps which don’t necessarily lessen their value. I’m positive the repairer was trying to make a big profit from a foreign customer. But she agreed with him that the cicim had to be restored completely and asked us to sell it to her for a fraction of the reasonable price Abit had asked, since it was so ‘damaged’.

As much as we needed the money, I immediately gave her deposit back to reclaim the cicim. I was horrified to think that the piece would undergo unnecessary major “surgery”. Perhaps the restorer would have done a good job on those unraveled selvages, but I was incensed that G had admired the piece for so many years, but then was so easily persuaded to find it lacking. To me, her need to have a ‘perfect’ kilim made her not worthy to have it. I’m afraid I take my kilims and carpets personally; they do become like members of the family to me.

What do you think, fiber artists and textile lovers? Should we have given in to our customers request for a cheaper price? Should older weavings be restored or left as they are? As a designer more than a business woman, I’d rather keep such an imperfect piece than make a sale.

And now we enjoy it daily, since the cicim has been retired to our garden dining table. No worries – we promise not to spill our meals on it!

For cicims I will allow you to buy, please visit www.bazaarbayar.etsy.com.

Catherine Salter Bayar lives with her husband Abit in Selcuk, near Ephesus, Turkey, where they own a vintage textile shop and a water pipe & wine bar. A regular contributor of this blog, Catherine is also a member of our Fiber Focus group. She is currently working on a book on Turkish textiles. Visit Catherine and Abit at www.bazaarbayar.com or www.bazaarbayar.etsy.com.

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  1. A very good friend of mine is a professional textile restorer and has done this job for more than 25 years. She worked for the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul and now for the Ethnografic Museum of Hamburg. And she explained to me that such pieces should be restored in such a way that the piece is secured, but the original parts should be visibly different from the new work. All changes are documented in a restoration record for further changes.
    I can show these pictures to her if you like me to.
    I have the impression that this is a learning work from a very young weaver with some space for experimenting with patterns.
    The lady with the idea about making every repair invisible may be right, as far as restoration of new things is concerned, but she is not following today's politics of museums how to treat vintage treasures.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Eva! Working for the Topkapı sounds like a dream job to me. You may be right about this being a very young, inexperienced weaver, since most weavings are far more 'perfect' in their pattern placement.

    Would be intrigued to know what your friend thinks, though doubt this piece is museum quality. But I'm not surprised that repairmen here in Selcuk do not follow today's museum politics either for vintage pieces. Perhaps they do in larger cities in Turkey where there is more awareness of the outside world?

    I'd be curious to know how your friend would make the restoration visibly different without that new work being distracting to the eye.

  3. That really is a beautiful and intriguing piece!


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“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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