Cover of Turkish tablet weaving book showing tablets and a beater

Tablet Weaving from Anatolia and the Ottoman Court
Şerife Atlıhan
Marmara University Press
ISBN 978-975-400-404-5
€45; €15 shipping to US
227 pp

To purchase, email with shipping address to receive an invoice and bank information for the required wire transfer. I used TransferWise to good effect.

Review by Sarah Goslee, February 18, 2019

Table of Contents

I’ve been eagerly awaiting this book for several years, in hopes that it provides additional information about the elaborate tablet-woven presentation bands given as gifts by the Ottoman Sultan in the 16th and 17th centuries. Despite the 2017 publication date, it did not become available until late 2018 (or possibly only in English translation), and at that time at least was only available directly from Marmara University. The book is the product of the author’s field work in Anatolia, where she discovered tablet weaving and learned the technique, and of her access to the textile collections of the Topkapı Museum and other regional collections.

The hundred-page catalogue, half of the book, is a delight. For each of the forty-nine items featured, it contains a two-page spread with an overview photo of the item, a detailed close-up of the tablet-woven band, and a threading and weaving draft. There is a mix of Anatolian material from recent decades, and Ottoman bands from the 15 th -17 th centuries (some undated). The Anatolian bands are primarily ram’s horn variants and double-faced bands woven on four-holed tablets, often showing signs of hard wear. None of the ram’s horn bands are dated before the 17th century. The museum material includes double-faced, brocaded, and warp-twined bands, woven on four-, six-, or eight-holed tablets. The bands included were used for many purposes: sashes, caftan closures, harness and tack, and edgings on larger textiles. No other source I’ve seen on Topkapı textiles has detail photos that satisfy the weaver.

There are several band types I haven’t seen elsewhere, or in such elaboration. There were bands woven in a double-faced technique that used silk for the obverse (often also brocaded), and a single strand of a heavier cotton for the back, to make a sturdier wear-resistant reverse side. That could be very useful. Many of the museum bands were woven on six-holed tablets, often in a intriguing structure requiring the tablets to be threaded in pairs, with three threads apiece in alternate holes. This produces apparently-complex patterns with minimal effort. I’ve already begun samples of three of these bands (and in the process discovered an error in one of the pattern charts).

The catalogue includes one of the Uzbeki two-sided tablet-woven velvet bands, and there are several pages of discussion on how these bands were woven. Collingwood suggests several ways in which a tablet-woven velvet could be constructed; Atlıhan states that the method she describes is the one used for the band pictured, but it was unclear what evidence this claim was based on. The method is similar to Collingwood’s conclusion, and does make sense. I’m looking forward to trying it.

The historical overview was disappointing. The author makes much of the antiquity of tablet weaving, based on the girdle of Ramses (3000-2000 BCE). However, Collingwood definitely demon-strated that the girdle was not tablet woven. The Museum of Liverpool describes the band as not tablet-woven, and discusses the very interesting structure in more detail. At-lıhan relies heavily on research published in the early and middle twentieth century, and does not mention any of the newer research on tablet weaving, even those finds that would support the age of the technique, such as the finds from Hallstatt, Austria (1400-1250 BCE; Grömer, 2014), Verucchio, Italy (800-700 BCE), and Hochdorf, Germany (520-530 BCE).

The ethnographic information and discussion, however, was fascinating. Here Atlıhan is working from her own experience in the field, both talking to weavers and finding woven items from various sources. She discussed tools, techniques, and uses, with many photographs, and provides lists of terms in regional dialects. The general instructional material suffered in translation, I think, but the first-hand accounts of practices observed in Anatolia are quite nice.

Overall, this book was a worthwhile purchase for its specific Turkish information, and for the catalog. The author is not a tablet weaving specialist, and the general material, both historical and technique, reflect her lack of familiarity with current research on the subject, and with the vibrant international community of tablet weavers. The Anatolian information is as far as I know not otherwise available in English, and the catalog contains by far the best close-ups of Topkapı bands that I’ve seen. The museum information supports my existing research into Ottoman bands nicely, including extending the temporal range of the type of band I’m studying. I would not recommend this book to a new weaver, or to anyone looking for a good global history of the technique, but it is a solid addition to the research library of a devoted tablet weaving researcher, or for anyone interested in detailed information on Turkish textiles.