History Of The Towel

Posted August 8th, 2012 to Nandina              

The “modern” Turkish towel that has become so popular over the last 150 years is deeply rooted in Turkish history and cultural heritage. Originally, it was a flat piece of woven fabric that had many uses including for the ceremonial bath taken by a bride before her wedding. The hamam or Turkish bath is also undeniably linked to the evolution of the towel. The hamam towel, or pestamel, was long enough to wrap around the body and made mostly from cotton and/or linen and then embroidered by hand. They were very practical for the hamam because they stayed lightweight even when wet and were very absorbent. Elaborate sets consisting of specific towels for the shoulders, hips and head were woven for use at the baths and are still available today.

The towel may not have evolved much further if the Ottomans had not interceded in the 17th century. They had exceptional carpet-weaving skills and brought new design, color and intricate weaving to the making of towels. Royal demand for more and more elaborately beautiful pieces grew and eventually the first looped towel was woven sometime in the 18th century. The new invention was called ‘havly’ and consisted of rows of loops in rectangular groups.

The weavers had discovered that by using a second warp thread and pulling it above the flat surface of the towel a loop could be created which was then locked into place along the length of the warp thread with the shuttle or weft thread. Gradually, they increased the number of looping threads until the entire ‘havly’ was covered in loops. This was the beginning of the modern towel that we all use today. Over time, the name ‘havly’ changed to havlu in Turkish, which means ‘with loops.’ This special weave and the fact that the towels were woven by hand, meant that a weaver could only make 3 or 4 towels each day and made the towel an exclusive product and vastly contributed to its fame.

Today, there is renewed interest in the old hand-weaving techniques that are so much a part of Turkish heritage. Hand-operated looms are being rescued from the scrap yard, restored and put back into service. Master weavers are once again producing handmade, luxury towels such as the Heirloom Collection by Nandina. Woven of the finest quality Bergama organic cotton, these towels reinterpret classic designs for contemporary living and are loomed using traditional yarn-dyed fibers. Luckily, this new appreciation for traditional hand weaving is responsible for the passing these age-old skills on to a new generation of craftsmen before it disappeared forever.