The Women Behind the Weave: Past, Present, and Future

A collaboration between STEP Certified Partners Christopher Farr and Kirkit Rugs was featured in a recent exhibition focused on highlighting the women behind the craft of weaving and rug making.

Kirkit Rugs team of weavers.

The Women Behind the Weave

The art and craft of weaving is something that has traditionally been performed by women. While there are of course exceptions to this statement, it stands true for most countries, cultures, and time periods. It is also true that these same women have generally not been afforded the recognition, pay, or job security they deserve for their creativity and skill. 

In the case of the carpet industry, there is a confluence of factors that have caused this issue; however, there is no doubt that one such factor is that it has largely been a male-dominated industry in the arenas outside of the actual craftsmanship. A recent exhibition, Women Behind the Weave, at Wild Heart Free Soul in Berlin shed some light on this issue by featuring an inspiring collaboration between two STEP Certified Fair Trade Partners: Christopher Farr and Kirkit Rugs

The exhibition consisted of two primary elements: the first showcased Christopher Farr’s “Tapestry 1923,” a re-issue of kilim originally designed by Gunta Stölzl, who, as the Head of the Weaving Department, became the first female Master at Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus school; and the second featured 15 pieces of woven artwork, each conceived of and crafted by a weaver at the Kirkit Rugs workshop. 

Tapestry 1923, designed by Gunta Stölzl and produced by Christopher Farr.

Gunta Stölzl Revisited

Part of an edition of ten, the stunning “Tapestry 1923” marks a continuation of Christopher Farr’s work in recreating the designs of the great, female Bauhaus weavers. An earlier project saw them recreate a piece by Anni Albers. For “Tapestry 1923,” however, partnered with Kirkit Rugs to tap into their kilim expertise—something granted by the deeply embedded tradition of Anatolian kilims in the culture of Turkey (where Kirkit is based). This collaboration reflects the duo’s shared ambition of giving women weavers the recognition they deserve, while also ensuring that this incredibly rich cultural heritage continues to thrive in the future.

Photo: Carina Adam.

15 Unique Weaves by 15 Unique Weavers

The second, yet equally important, aspect of this exhibition featured the 15 unique weaves created by weavers at Kirkit Rugs’s impressive workshop in Turkey.

Weavers at the Kirkit Rugs Workshop.

Each artisan was granted full creative freedom to create a 1 sqm artwork. The result was a series of fascinating pieces with subject matter ranging from yearning and uncertainty to freedom and independence. The proceeds from the sales of these works will all go to a local Turkish charity of Kirkit’s choice.

The opening of the exhibition also featured a conversation between Ariel Aloni, the grandchild of Gunta Stölzl; Matthew and Dorothy Bourne of Christopher Farr; Beyza Nur Özler of Wild Heart Free Soul; and STEP Director, Reto Aschwanden. Watch some highlights here.

Left to right: Matthew Bourne, Ariel Aloni, Beyza Nur Özler, Reto Aschwanden, and Dorothy Bourne. Photo Carina Adam.

A Generation of Change

In the spirit of honoring the female designers who were pioneers in this male-dominated industry, we’ve gathered the thoughts of some of the women who were instrumental to making this event happen.

Halime Yildiz, weaver at Kirkit Rugs

Halime has over 40 years of weaving experience and described the deep significance kilims hold in her life:

“Kilims are used as decoration these days. For me, however, they represent the prayer rug my grandfather prayed on, the kilim my mother used when baking bread, and the bag my sister poured her emotions into. They also symbolize the kilims that were used to wrap the deceased on their journey to the cemetery. In other words, kilims have accompanied us from birth to death.”

Freedom by Halime Yildiz

“Anatolian women have interwoven their emotions with symbols on rugs for centuries. In this design I have tried to reflect the repressed feelings of Anatolian women and their call for freedom.”

Dorothy Bourne, Christopher Farr

Dorothy Bourne. Photo by Carina Adam.

“Kirkit are changing the industry and employing their highly skilled weavers in a fair and modern way. At Christopher Farr, we’re super proud to work with Kirkit on our custom flatweaves and were pleased to instigate this project to shine a light on the brilliant and beautiful work they’re doing. Having visited the workshop in Uşak a number of times, I found it very inspiring to see their individual works and perspectives on weaving. It has been a privilege to spend time with the women there throughout this process.” –Dorothy Bourne, Christopher Farr

Elif Aydoğan, weaver at Kirkit Rugs

With 25 years of weaving experience, Elif described the impact carpet weaving has had on her life:

“Carpet weaving is one of the best professions ever and also contributes to my self-development and economic independence.”

Elif Aydoğan describes how Sea Shell was “born out of a lifelong fascination with seashells that began in my early years.”

Beyza Nur Özler, Wild Heart Free Soul

Beyza Nur Özler (center). Photo by Carina Adam.

“As a passionate dealer and collector of vintage & antique kilims from Anatolia, my journey with kilim art has been deeply transformative. The Women Behind The Weave project holds a special place in my heart. It’s not just about showcasing the magnificent art of kilim weaving; it’s a celebration of the women who have been the backbone of this tradition for centuries. These artisans create not just rugs but narratives of resilience and beauty with each weave, often remaining unnamed in a male-dominated, capitalistic industry.

“Through this project, we’re not only reviving a fading tradition but also redefining it. Women Behind The Weave is giving these talented women a face, a voice, an identity. They’re no longer anonymous craftswomen; they’re artists deserving of recognition and fair compensation. This shift is crucial in an industry where men have historically dominated the commercial aspects, often overshadowing the true creators of these timeless pieces.

Women Behind The Weave represents a significant step toward sustainable change, focusing on honoring both the craft and the craftswomen. Collaborating with visionaries like Ahmet Diler from Kirkit, who is revolutionizing industry standards by providing weavers with a salary, health insurance, and pension and Matthew Bourne from Christopher Farr, the driving force behind this project, has been incredibly rewarding. Additionally, having Reto Aschwanden from Label STEP, who plays a crucial role in ensuring transparency for rug customers and reshaping the industry, join us for the panel talk at the opening of the exhibition was a tremendous honor.

“I am both humbled and grateful to be a part of this group of changemakers. Together, we’re doing more than just preserving a sacred art; we’re nurturing the spirits of those who breathe life into these kilims. It’s my hope that Women Behind The Weave will be the first of many sustainable projects aimed at honoring the art of weaving and empowering the weavers themselves.” –Beyza Nur Özler, Wild Heart Free Soul

For more about the Women Behind the Weave exhibition, visit: Wild Heart Free Soul.

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