I first visited Tire (pron. Tier-ray ) in 1992, the centre for Feltmaking in the Izmir province.
Tire is a small hill town on the edge of the Aydin Mountain range, overlooking the Menderes Plain. An important centre for the local agricultural community.
It was our 17th trip working in Turkey and we arrived in Tire on market day. It was noisy and crowded; buzzing with life. The streets were lined with every kind of product you could imagine. Many shops were selling raw materials; Sisal, Fleece, Dyestuffs, Pigments, Reeds, Live animals, Birds, Plants, even Coal! A real cacophony of materials, textures and colours. Many craftsmen displayed their wares at the front of their workshops which were wide open revealing the craftsmen at work. Saddlemakers, Ropemakers, Leatherworkers, Brushmakers, Blacksmiths, Quiltmakers and of course, Feltmakers and more besides!
As I toured the streets I was attracted by the low regular thumping noise of machinery. My curiosity about the source of the noise led me to Sogan Pazari Sokagi (Onion Market Street ) sadly, only one onion merchant remains there. This quarter is now the centre for feltmakers workshops; the source of the noise being the mechanical presses used in the feltmaking process.
Hanging from every available place were brightly coloured felt donkey and horse blankets, large and small mats with geometric and floral designs, some with embroidery. Hanging in long rows along the side of a derelict building were shepherds cloaks (Coban Kepenek) made in natural coloured wool. They had large hoods, a numeral indicating the weight and the maker’s symbol as the only decorative addition.
The sign above the door at No.5 read ‘Ahmet Zincircioglu1, (meaning son of the chainmaker) ‘Kececi1, (pron, Kecheji1) ‘Feltmaker1. Ahmet appeared in the doorway, “Hos geldiniz, burun”, gesturing to my wife and I to enter. “Hos bulduk” we replied, the polite form of acceptance, “(toy?”, he said pointing at each of us, “Evet, lutfen”. Tea appeared as if by magic, chairs drawn up, we entered once more into the favourite Turkish pastime of sitting and talking over a glass of tea. It was surprising for him to meet English people who had more than a modicum of Turkish! So began a long term relationship with Ahmet who was to become my future felt master.
Ahmet was taking a break from making a ‘Kece1, a traditional felt rug. The outline of the rug was layed out on a long rush mat; the ‘Kalip’. The linear design, some 4 metres long and 1.5 metres wide was made of lightly felted and dyed wool, cut into strips with shears and arranged in geometric grid-like patterns with a large medallion design at it’s centre. Brilliantly coloured fluffy fleece was being carefully applied to the design by Shukru and Sherefettin, Ahmet’s assistants.
Against the rear wall was a large dusty machine, the shape echoing the symmetry of the rush mat and the patterned rug. This contrasted with the softened cobweb strewn structure of the building and the atmospheric lighting conditions. All these ingredient aroused my interest. I could see another painting in the making. I stayed a few hours working in my sketchbook, disturbed only by the usual quizzical onlookers I had long since got used to in Turkey. I became aware as I watched Ahmet, Sherefettin and Shukru go about their work, that the medium had a lot in common with my experience in papermaking and watercolour painting.
First published in ‘Echoes’ the magazine of the International Feltmakers Association