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Ottoman Silk Velvets

Six gold-brocaded silk velvets (çatma) in the DDFIA collection (83.2, 83.3, 83.5, 83.6.1–2, 83.17, see below) exemplify trends in the production of luxury textiles between 1600 and 1750. Each object merits careful attention, and taken together, they provide excellent evidence for the breadth and depth of Ottoman artistic creativity, and for its coupling with commercial acumen.

Çatma textiles are usually attributed to the old Ottoman capital of Bursa, near the Sea of Marmara in western Anatolia. The city was a silk trading entrepôt from the fourteenth century, and became a silk-weaving center in the fifteenth century, if not earlier. In the following century, the making of silk—and of çatma especially—became its economic mainstay. When the Ottoman traveler and commentator Evliya Çelebi passed though Bursa in 1641, he wrote that many of the people in the region were involved in some aspect of silk production: reeling, twisting, plying, dyeing or weaving, and that the city’s most famous products were gold-worked crimson velvets—çatma—meant to be used as sofa cushions.

Çatma is the term used in Ottoman documents, as well as by art and economic historians in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, to describe a specific textile structure; indeed, it is consistent in the six DDFIA examples. Çatma uses two sets of warps and three sets of wefts to achieve its sumptous texture and glittering surface. The foundation is a satin, in which narrow silk warp threads completely hide thick cotton weft threads. The velvet pile is made of a supplementary silk warp thread which is thicker and more lustrous than that of the satin foundation; in the case of the DDFIA çatmas, it is crimson and green. The brocading weft threads were made of kılaptan, which is a thin piece of precious metal foil wrapped around a core of silk thread. The kılaptan covered the places that were left bare of pile, providing the contrast that in turn formed the motifs, whether roses, medallions or tulips. The third weft, visible only on the reverse, bound the velvet warp threads to the back of the textile, keeping the textile free of loose lengths which might easily be caught or damaged.

The making of these çatmas, which have repeating motifs or large medallions, required a large drawloom equipped with a special device called a pattern harness. The device was programmed ahead by a special expert; during weaving, it was operated by a drawboy. As the weaver himself operated the loom to make the satin foundation, the drawboy manouevered the pattern harness at the weaver’s command, and their actions together produced the finished velvet. 

Though çatma clothing survives at the Topkapı Palace Museum in Istanbul and elsewhere, the fabric’s main use was upholstery. The heaviness of the silk and gold, the stiffness of the cotton foundation, and its ability to resist wear were well suited to the task. Records from the palace and from hundreds of inventories of wealthy men and women in Ottoman cities attest to its popularity between about 1550 and 1750.

In fact, all of the çatmas in the DDFIA collection discussed here were designed to be used as textile furnishings. 83.3 and 83.5 are each remnants of complete objects that would have comprised two pieces (in the case of 83.5) or possibly four or two pieces (in the case of 83.3) to make a whole, as suggested by their borders. The frames made the pieces into unified single objects, and defined their final sizes and functions. 83.5 may have been a sitting cloth (sing. maq’ad, pl. maq’adlar) and 83.3 a quilt cover (sing. yorgan yüzü, pl. yorgan yüzleri) or a floor covering (sing. nihale), all of which are listed in estate inventories from the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Even more popular were the cushion covers, which appear  by the hundreds in similar inventories (sing. yastık yüzü, pl. yastık yüzleri). The cushion covers are immediately identfiable not only by their motifs and palette, but by the series of tabs at each end, which also define their role as sofa cushions—like those mentioned by Evliya Çelebi. The inventories, which were made by a professional evaluator, give a range of prices for çatma cushion covers, which suggests that some were larger, more beautiful, or used higher quality silk and gold than others. In any case, the çatmas at the DDFIA help us understand the diversity of objects that exist even in a single category.  

83.2, 83.17 and 83.6.1–2 reflect this range, and in fact provide physical evidence both more nuanced and more direct than the documents. The largest, and perhaps finest, of the four is 83.2, which uses a central medallion with elegantly interlaced blossoms and stems on a deep crimson ground. 83.17 features a similar central motif, but the weaver has used only crimson silk, eliminating the green, and thereby saving a quantity of thread. This example is substantially smaller, and the crimson threads themselves are less shiny and less densely packed. 83.6.1 & 2 provide insight into a third mode of production; this pair, which were certainly woven together, use crimson pile through the central field and green along each side. The agile weaver has retained two colors of pile but nonetheless reduced the amount of expensive crimson and green silk by half.

Individually, the DDFIA çatmas stand as a testament to the artistic creativity and standard of craft in Bursa. Together, they also show the ingenuity and versatility with which the weavers adjusted their practices and reached consumers with deeper (as well as shallower) pockets, while also maintaining their livelihood over the centuries’ booms and busts.

Dr. Amanda Phillips, Institute for Iranian Studies, University of St. Andrews, November 2012.

Portion of a maqad (83.5). Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2005.)

Portion of a maqad (83.5). Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2005.)

Warp-weft structure of 83.3 under 50X magnification; kilaptan weft are visible. (Photo: Ann Svenson, 2012.)

Warp-weft structure of 83.3 under 50X magnification; kilaptan weft are visible. (Photo: Ann Svenson, 2012.)

The Damascus Room during Duke’s lifetime, no earlier than 1962. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.

The Damascus Room during Duke’s lifetime, no earlier than 1962. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.

Recommended Citation expand icon

Amanda Phillips, “Textiles and Carpets: Ottoman Silk Velvets,” Collection Highlights, Shangri La: A Center for Islamic Arts and Cultures, November 2012, www.shangrilahawaii.org.

Further Reading and Resources expand icon

Online resources:

Amanda Phillips, “Ottoman Silk Furnishing Fabrics in the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art: Fashion and Production, 1600–1750,” Shangri La Working Papers in Islamic Art, no. 4.

Amanda Phillips, “DDFIA 83.3,” Scholar Favorites, Shangri La: A Center for Islamic Arts and Cultures, July 2012. 

Amanda Phillips, “The Historiography of Ottoman Velvets, 2011–1572: Scholars, Craftsmen, Consumers,” Journal of Art Historiography 6 (June 2012). 

Comparanda in other collections:

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Victoria & Albert Museum, London


Amanda Phillips, “A Material Culture: Ottoman Velvets and their Owners, 1600–1750,”Muqarnas 31 (forthcoming).

Halil İnalcık, Türkiye Tekstil Tarihi Üzerine Araştırmalar (Istanbul: Türkiye İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 2008).

Hülya Bilgi, Çatma and Kemha: Ottoman Silk Textiles (Istanbul: Sadberk Hanım Müzesi, 2007).

Hülya Tezcan and Sumiyo Okumura, Textile Furnishings from the Topkapı Palace Museum(Istanbul: Topkapı Palace Museum and the Vehbi Koç Vakfı, 2007).

Daniël de Jonghe, Marie-Christine Maquoi, Ina Vanden Berghe, M. Van Raemdonck, V. Vereecken, C. Verhecken-Lammens, and J. Wouters, The Ottoman Silk Textiles at the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels (Turnhout: Brepols, 2004).

Nurhan Atasoy, Walter B. Denny, Louise Mackie and Hülya Tezcan, İPEK: The Crescent and the Rose, Imperial Ottoman Silks and Velvets (Istanbul and London: Azimuth Editions, 2001).

Fahri Dalsar, Bursa’da Ipekcilik: Türk Sanayi ve Ticaret Tarihinde (Istanbul: Istanbul University Press, 1960).

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