If you’re lucky enough to visit Istanbul, there’s a good chance that you’ll be lured into a carpet shop. It’s almost a rite of passage. Turkish carpets are beautiful, and you may find yourself swooning over all the incredible pieces of art and history that lay at your feet. Buying a Turkish carpet can be a fun and rewarding experience, especially if you know the right questions to ask.
Ask these TEN questions before buying a Turkish carpet to shop confidently in Istanbul.
Wandering through Istanbul, especially in Sultanahmet, can be overwhelming. The area is crammed with incredible historical sites. And you might feel bombarded by smiling Turks trying to sell you something.
While it might feel rude not to respond, avoidance is often the best tactic. Keep walking and stay silent. But I’d highly recommend having some fun and engaging with a few friendly sellers.
You’ll quickly discover that Turks are charming and have a great sense of humour. They also love to share information about their culture and the city. So take a chance! You never know what you might learn or what unexpected treasure you’ll find in their shop.
10 Questions to Ask Before Buying a Turkish Carpet
Becoming an expert in Turkish textiles, including carpets and kilims, can take a lifetime. But these ten questions will help ensure you bring something home you’ll forever cherish.
- Is it handmade or machine-made?
- What material is it made of? (Wool, Cotton, Silk)
- Are the dyes natural or synthetic?
- What is the knot density?
- How old is the carpet?
- Where was the carpet made?
- What is the story behind the carpet?
- What are the dimensions?
- How much does it cost?
- Who pays for shipping?
Buying a Piece of History
All Turkish carpet shops will include an explanation of the Turkish Double Knot. This unique weaving technique means that all handmade carpets from Turkey are highly durable, lasting a lifetime. A single rug could take months, if not years, to make.
Every year, more Turkish women have moved away from carpet-making for more modern pursuits. Machine-made rugs are filling the demand. And there are some beautiful machine-made rugs; if you find one you love, buy it! But you won’t regret purchasing a hand-crafted beauty that is increasingly rare.
Turn it over to Check!
A Turkish handmade carpet will have the same pattern visible on the underside. So please don’t be shy to flip it over to double-check that you’re buying the real deal. The colours will be slightly muted, but the design is identical. Machine-woven rugs are one-sided.
Wool, Cotton & Silk
The materials in the carpet you buy, wool versus cotton versus silk, will come down to personal preference and how and where you plan to use the rug.
Silk carpets are the most expensive but allow for more intricate patterns. And they have a lovely sheen. But they can also be a bit slippery to walk on. Due to the cost, these valuable carpets are often hung on walls like a painting.
All wool rugs, or wool-on-wool, are carpets where the wool has been knotted onto a woollen frame. These rugs are highly durable and decorated with meaningful geometric motifs. They are ideal for well-used areas and great for dining rooms. Wool carpets with natural dyes are easily cleaned and stain-resistant. Wool is the original substrate, used for thousands of years by the local nomadic tribes.
Weaving wool onto a cotton framework (wool-on-cotton) produces a long-lasting carpet, allowing the weaver to create a more elaborate design with sharper images.
A cotton-on-cotton rug is an excellent alternative if you like the luxury of silk but cannot afford the price. Its soft, glossy sheen and detailed patterns may make it difficult for anyone but an expert to tell the difference between an all-cotton rug and one made entirely of silk.
You may be drawn to synthetic dyed carpets if you like bright and vibrant colours. Typically, these are in machine-made rugs. But the pretty artificial colours fade over time. Synthetic dyes often get bleached out by the sun.
On the other hand, natural dyes don’t fade. The gorgeous colours are made from ancient recipes, using wild roses, walnut shells, pomegranate and saffron. And stains like the dreaded glass of spilled red wine can be cleaned at home without fear of damaging your precious rug permanently.
Similar to thread count for linens or pixels for digital images, a higher knot count per square inch indicates better quality. But also cost, as the higher the knot density, the longer the carpet took to make. Unlike the thread count on bed sheets, knot count isn’t stickered onto the rug, but a reputable carpet seller can guide you.
Don’t get too hung up on the numbers. It’s helpful to be aware of the concept as you shop. Knot density allows you to compare the rugs you like and understand each piece’s labour, artistry and potential cost.
When it comes to age, older carpets are often more beautiful and unique as long as they have been well-used or adequately stored. Vintage rugs are at least 20 years old, and rugs over 80 are antiques. Don’t reject a carpet because it’s older; consider it a lucky find that may have been waiting for you in Istanbul since before you were born.
Where was the carpet made?
Turkish carpet sellers know the region where every carpet is made. They may even know the exact village and the name of the woman who made it. While your purchase decision will be influenced by colour, design, and cost, getting your carpet’s back story is a fun fact to share at a future dinner party.
Every Carpet Tells A Story
The motifs and symbols designed into every carpet have been used for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Many are signs of protection, while others denote long life, health and fertility. Ask your carpet seller to point out the motifs, and soon, you can spot them yourself.
Ideally, you already know the dimensions of the Turkish carpet that you want to buy for your home. But if you read this while in Istanbul, remember that most people underestimate room size and buy a too-small rug. Here’s a handy guide by room.
The length of an average sofa is 7 feet (213cm), so the three most popular rug sizes for this area are 5’x8‘ (152cm x 244cm), 8’x10‘ (244cm x 305cm) and 9’x12′ (274cm x 366cm). These allow at least the sofa’s front legs to sit on the carpet.
Buy a rug that corresponds to your bed size. It should be visible, tucking out from the end of the bed and on either side, so your feet have a soft place to land every morning.
For a queen-sized bed, consider an 8’x10′ (244cm x 305cm) and a king-sized bed 9’x12′ (274cm x 366cm).
Or you can buy two smaller rugs 3’x5′ (91cm x 152cm) for each side of the bed. They don’t need to be identical and all matchy-matchy, but both should have a similar colour palette.
Hallway & Entrance
Runners add an often-needed pop of colour to an entrance or hallway. But the runner must be long enough so no one feels stranded on a carpeted island at your front door. A 2.6’x10″ (79cm x 305cm) runner is a good starting point.
As a general rule, regardless of your dining table size, you need at least 2 feet (61cm) of carpet behind each chair so that it can be moved back without the chair sliding right off the rug.
A six-chair rectangular table typically needs an 8’x10′ (244cm x 305cm) carpet. And a six-chair oval table requires a larger carpet of 9’x12′ (274cm x 366cm).
A cozy round four-chair table will fit on an 8’x8′ (244cm x 244cm) square rug or an 8′ (9244cm) round carpet. A four-chair square table is best on a 9’x9′ (274cm x 274cm) carpet.
The diversity of kitchen layouts and how much floor space you want to cover make general guidelines for kitchen rugs a bit more tricky.
Consider a 3’x5′ (91cm x 152cm) rug in front of the sink or a 2.6’x10″ (79cm x 305 cm) runner between the sink and an island.
How much will the Carpet Cost?
The price of any carpet is based on the materials used, size and labour. You can do a bit of negotiating in most Istanbul carpet shops. But bartering can make many people nervous. Try asking for something extra to sweeten the deal. Most carpet sellers will happily throw in a smaller item from their shop as a gift. And many shops will offer to pay to ship the carpet directly to your home.
A carpet isn’t an inexpensive souvenir, but it’s also the least likely to end up in your junk drawer of regrets. A handmade rug is a piece of art with the potential to become a family heirloom.
A Turkish carpet can add style and colour and cheer up your home. But buying anything bigger than a doormat will cost several hundred to thousands of dollars. Only you can decide if the investment is worth it, but my only regret is that we don’t have any more uncovered floor space, so I can buy another Turkish carpet.
And if a Turkish carpet isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other souvenirs to consider. Check out this post on 21 Incredible Turkish Souvenirs to buy in Istanbul.