Reviving a lost art and supporting local weavers, one scrumptious organic Turkish towel at a time
If you love thick, thirsty Turkish towels, the kind that drink up excess moisture from your skin after a bath or shower, you will want to pay a visit to Jennifer’s Hamam in Istanbul.
At the light, airy, smart little shop in the Sultanahmet neighborhood, not far from landmarks like the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, owner Jennifer Gaudet showcases some of the softest, most beautiful Turkish towels to be found anywhere in Turkey, which means, pretty much anywhere in the world.
Some are thick and scrumptious, while others (the flat-woven Peshtemal-style) are thinner and made from linen. But all are woven from GOTS-certified organic threads, and the designs are one of a kind. The quality and workmanship are superior because they are made by hand, the old way, by a network of weavers in remote parts of Turkey.
“The Ottoman weavers invented the technique with loops,” says Gaudet, “and it revolutionized our idea of what a towel was. People knew Turkish towels were fantastic, because they lasted so long.”
Everything is made in small batches in limited editions, by hand. “All the looms have shutters and a meter bar, and all require a human being to stand behind them,” she says.
Mechanization was taking over, the craft was dying out and the weavers were unable to make a living in recent years, until Gaudet stepped in and created a way to connect them with customers.
The kese—handsome exfoliating mitts for the hamam (or the home shower)—are flat, decorative, and made from tree bark or goat hair and silk, no soap required. “The dead skin rolls off like spaghetti,” says Gaudet, who works with the last families in Turkey that are hand-looming kese.
Like a cast-iron pan, an organic cotton towel requires “seasoning” in order to perform. According to Gaudet, you need to soak it in water for 24 hours, and it may need three or four additional soaks and a few washes to break it in before use. “If people are patient, what they get in return from organic cotton is a whole different experience,” she says. The towels are more absorbent, will not smell musty or harden over time, and are softer than anything else. Plus, natural fibers fight bacteria. And, they last.
“These will last a minimum of 20 years in cotton, 30 years in linen,” says Gaudet. “Can you imagine if everything lasted that long?” It is worth a trip to Istanbul to find out. jennifershamam.com