Handlooms of Antakya have weaved silk for six generations

The art of farming and handweaving silk is an old one in Antakya. Silk farmers say that fabric made with handlooms lasts longer than the fabric made with automatic machines.

Photo by: TRT
Photo by: TRT

Silk farmers from Antakya reeling filaments from silk cocoons.

Updated Jul 25, 2016

The Büyükaşık family has been engaged in silk farming since 1900. Mehmet Büyükaşık, who helps his uncle Hasan Büyükaşık run the family’s sericulture business in Antakya, southern Turkey, told TRT World that his forefathers learnt the art of silk weaving from an Armenian family who settled from the city of Aleppo.

"We learnt silk farming from Armenians settled in Valifli Kuyu, in the Hatay Province of Turkey. Now this is our family tradition and everybody in the Büyükaşık family is involved in silk farming and weaving," he said, explaining how the Buyukasik family has kept the tradition of sericulture alive for the last six generations.

At his stall in an exhibition near the historic Sultan Ahmet Mosque in Istanbul’s Fatih district, Mehmet, along with his other family members, demonstrated the process of reeling the filaments in which cocoons were being treated with boiling water.

Antakya farmers use a handloom for silk weaving.

"We have a small factory of 20 workers in Antakya. The factory produces around 200 to 300 metres of silk fabric in one month," he said while carefully unwinding filaments from cocoons.

"Hasan Büyükaşık, an elder of the Büyükaşık family, established his own business in 1950 and now the business is continued by all the family members," Mehmet said while highlighting how the family got into sericulture.

Antakya farmers make a variety of silk scarves on handlooms.

"We have participated in many exhibitions in the country and abroad in order to promote the silk products of Harbiye, a village in Antakya. Handwoven silk of Harbiye is very famous for its quality. But sadly this tradition is being continued only by the Büyükaşık family now."

Mehmet says fabric made on handlooms lasts longer than the fabric made on automatic machines. The handwoven silk fabric never loses its quality even after being washed or ironed several times.

"The reason why most people choose handwoven silk is that it is made from natural fibres. It is one of the softest fabrics and this fascinating material has a long history. It is a symbol of nobility. Since silk is a natural fibre, it is comfortable and doesn't provoke allergies," Mehmet explained.

"There are gardens of mulberry trees in my village which we use for silk farming,” Mehmet said. “We cultivate around 1,000 kilograms of silk cocoons annually. It is sufficient for our silk production."

Cocoons are treated in hot water to reel silk filaments.

"The quality of silk fibre greatly depends on the quality and freshness of mulberry leaves. If the leaves are fresh, the quality of silk will be good." Mehmet said that silkworms are fed on fresh mulberry leaves three times a day.

"After 40 days these silkworms make cocoons. A butterfly comes out from almost every cocoon and it dies after laying eggs. We save these eggs for silkworm farming for next year," he added.

"Our major exports include cotton towels and silk scarfs to the USA, Germany, Italy, and Spain.

"We want to expand our exports and silk farming business to other countries as well."

Mehmet, along with his cousins Yılmaz Tuncay and Ali Büyükaşık, learnt silk farming from his elders. He wants to see the tradition passed on to the younger generation.

"We are trying with great efforts to transfer this skill to our new generation. We are also trying carry out our job successfully by educating people about this art of silk weaving in various local and international exhibitions."

Author: Nazim Hussain