Everyone drools over Turkish silks–with good reason. And there were silks aplenty in the wardrobes of 16th-century Istanbulites, even those of modest means. But the workhorses of the Ottoman wardrobe were cotton, wool, and cotton-silk blends.
Cotton and Cotton Blends
Alaca may be a cotton-silk mixture, if “alaca” isn’t a color reference. The other meaning of alaca is “brightly colored,” “multicolored,” or, by the 18th century, “striped.” The estate records contain a few “alaca keçe,” alaca felt mats, one alaca kirpas (cotton cloth), and several garments made of alaca kemha (brocade), but the rest of the many, many items labeled as alaca mention neither a color nor a fabric. That suggests that alaca was both a type of fabric and a pattern or patterns that needed no further color description.
Astar was a type of cotton cloth. In an 1802 source, it was used for linings. [link] Today it refers to three grades of muslin used for turbans and underwear.
Bez was a generic term for cloth, usually cotton but sometimes linen. Bez panbuk (pamuk) is definitely cotton.
Bogasi (or boğası) was a high-quality cotton twill used both as the main fabric for ordinary garments, and as a lining for grander garments. In the late 15th century, boğası was dyed and polished [link]–that is, run through a press to give it a smooth, shiny finish–so it may have been affordable, but it wasn’t drab.
Destar was a very high-quality tülbent (itself a very fine cotton cloth) used for turbans.
Kutni or kutnu was a mixed-fiber cloth with cotton warp and silk weft, woven so the cotton faced in and the silk faced out. Not only did this create a more breathable, less expensive “silk” fabric, it also got around the Islamic rule against men wearing silk. After all, could you be said to be wearing silk when the silk didn’t touch your skin?
In the estate records, kutni is used mainly for kaftans and zıbıns, ranging from 70 to 500 akçes and averaging 293 for kaftans and 114 for zıbıns. That pushes the cost of kutni very slightly toward the nicer end of affordable.
By the 18th century, kutni was striped and flowered. That opens up the possibility that at least some of the 16th-century kutnis were patterned. Unfortunately, the estate records aren’t much use. Most of the kutni garments aren’t described in detail; two are medium blue, one is green, and one is listed as “kaftan sâde kutnî.” If this is a misspelling of “kaftan-ı sâde kutnî,” it means “kaftan of plain kutni,” which suggests there were other, non-plain kutnis around. However, a patterned fabric would cost more than a plain one, especially since easy-to-weave stripes weren’t in style, and kutni was affordably priced. (Ironically, the kaftan of plain kutni was among the more expensive kutni garments.)
Penbe (modern pembe) was either cotton, or the color pink. Unclear.
Tülbent was a fine muslin often used for headkerchiefs, turbans, and other headgear. (This uses the European definition of muslin, a fine cotton cloth, not the U.S. definition, cheap cotton cloth used as practice material.) A kerchief made of tülbent is also called a tülbent.
Yemeni is something of a mystery fabric at the moment. By the 18th or 19th century it was a light cotton, sometimes a chintz, but in the estate records it was used mainly for soft furnishings, wrapping cloths, hand towels, and the like, so it must have been fairly substantial.
Wool and Wool-Like Fibers
Aba was a coarse, cheap wool often used for making a type of robe called an aba.
Çuka or çuka was a strong woolen broadcloth, often used for outer garments. It was costly; in the estate records, an ell of çuka cost an average of 170 akçes, roughly as much as kemha (silk brocade). But perhaps only the more expensive types of çuka were inventoried by the length, because garments of çuka ranged the gamut from Mustafa Reis b. Yusuf’s 1,165-akçe purple çuka ferace, through Süleyman Beşe b. Yakub’s 500-akçe purple çuka yelek, to a variety of jackets, feraces, and zıbın appraised at the eminently reasonable price of 200 to 300 akçes, to a pair of şalvar worth 75 akçes and hats valued at 21 akçes the pair.
Çuka was also the name of an overcoat, which was presumably made of wool broadcloth at one time or another, but by the time of the estate records could be made of other fabrics as well.
Muhayyer is a very cheap mohair fabric. Of the 14 muyhayyer garments in the estate records, there were four ferace, six benevrek (a type of men’s trousers), two fistan (a skirt or skirt-like garment worn by non-Muslims), one yelek, and one kaftan, all incredibly cheap.
Sof is also mohair.
Tiftik may be Angora, aka mohair. It was very sturdy, since it was used mainly for making rugs and curtains; the only tiftik garment in the records is a belt. Tiftik may be a description of fiber content rather than a textile name.
Şal may be cashmere. There was only one piece in the estate records, marked as “old” and very cheap.
Dimi may be fustian, a heavy cloth made of cotton, linen, wool, or a mixture of fibers.
İplik is either yarn/thread, or linen. Unclear.
Kenevir is hemp.
Keten is linen, a relatively rare fabric.
Kürk is fur, usually used as a lining.
Post (or postin) is fur or leather.
Sincab is squirrel fur.
What You’ve Been Waiting For: Silk
Scholars have labored for centuries over the different types of silks, defining what counts as seraser, what is serenk, and what is merely kemha, what separates çatma from lesser velvets, how to separate the avalanches of glorious fabrics into organized streams. This is valuable from the viewpoint of modern scholars, who need a precise shared vocabulary. It’s less useful in answering the question, “What did the estate-writers mean when they said Mihri Hatun’s kaftan was made of kemha?”
İpek is the generic word for silk, but people usually used one of the dozens of more specific words for types of silk.
Atlas is a thick, highly prized silk satin.
Bağdâdî is a wildly expensive fabric that appears in the estate records without explanation. Given the cost, it was definitely silk, possibly with gold or silver threads, possibly brocaded; given the name, it was made in Baghdad.
Çatma or çatma kadife is gold-brocaded silk velvet with a raised design.
Dârâyî is an affordable-but-not-cheap light silk. In the estate records it was used for garments that were meant to be seen–kaftans, cames, and zıbıns.
Diba is a heavy silk brocade of such high quality that in period, it was restricted to the palace. However, late in period and/or shortly after period, the living standard had risen enough that wealthy commoners were starting to own modest quanitites of diba. [link]
Hâre is an expensive “marble-like wavy fabric” that we probably know as moire silk. It was often described as telli, woven with metal threads.
Kadife is velvet. There were many types of velvet, but if a fabric is described only as kadife, it was probably single-color, single-pile velvet.
Kemha is silk brocade of a type referred to by modern scholars as lampas.
Kumaş is the modern Turkish word for fabric, but it’s used more specifically in the estate registries. Ingilizce-Osmanlica defines it as “Any kind of tissue; especially, the finer and more costly varieties of silk stuffs.” Since the people of 16th-century Istanbul used it for cushions, bolsters, and quilts as well as the occasional garment, I would ignore the Victorian use of “tissue” to mean “fabric” and define kumaş as any kind of high-quality silk.
Serâser is a rich brocade with a ground of metallic threads. This was the richest type of fabric the average obscenely wealthy Istanbulite owned at the end of the 16th century.
Sirenk, more commonly spelled serenk, is a brocade with no metal threads. There were only two instances of it in the records, possibly because brocades of that type were included under one of the other terms.
Tafta is a mid-range silk. Despite being the root of the word “taffeta,” it was evidently substantial, since furnishings and hard-wearing items like belts could be made of tafta. Miki Iida-Sohma describes it as “silk plain-weave fabric with a ribbed surface caused by prominent warp or weft threads” [link].
In the estate register, the cost of garments made of tafta varies wildly, from two zıbıns worth 46 and 43 akçes, to a 202-akce gömlek of Egyptian tafta, to a 500-akçe came of printed red tafta, to an utterly decadent 600-akçe gömlek of white tafta with buttons. One lady with 500 akçe to waste even made her underwear out of tafta.
Ümmî bt. Sinan, a lady of great wealth whose wardrobe was a wonder to behold, had two quilts of staggeringly rich serâser silk, and naturally the sheets that went with them were tafta. Not plain tafta, though–ugh. One sheet was red and “münakkaş,” decorated–either patterned or embroidered–and had buttons, presumably so Ümmî Hatun could also use it as a bath wrap. The other sheet was medium blue, and also buttoned. Each set of quilt and sheet cost 3,000 akçes.
And yet, tafta by the ell wasn’t expensive. Fâtıma bt. Süleyman owned three ells of green tafta that cost 50 akçe, or 16.67 per ell; Mahmud Bey b. Perviz Bey’s four ells of tafta cost only 40 akçe, or 10 per ell. A bale or loom-length of tafta owned by Sâliha bt. Mehmed cost 290 akçe. We don’t know how long the loom-length was, but three loom-lengths of cotton cloth elsewhere in the records were 10 ells, 10 ells, and 8 ells long. If the tafta loom-length is comparable, it cost only 29 to 36 akçes per ell–not much more expensive than the cotton loom-lengths. If the estate records aren’t misleading, tafta may have been valued less on its own merits and more as a base for embroidery and other forms of decoration.
Vale is a type of light, gauzy silk. All four of the vale garments in the estate records are luxurious, rather expensive underpants (don).
İbrişim is pure silk thread that was used for weaving belts.
Fabrics Used for Furnishings but Not Clothes
Beledî is a sturdy cotton fabric, often locally made and/or homespun, that was used for furnishings. Its natural color was beige, but it could be colored. Post-period it was often mentioned as being red, white, black, or patterned in those colors.
Hindî, imported Indian cloth, is something of a mystery at the moment. It was inexpensive, and was used for pillows and quilts.
Keçe is felt, or a mat made of felt.
Kirpas (also kirbas, kirbaz) is a heavy canvas of cotton, linen, or hemp. One source refers to it as sailcloth. In the estate records, it appears only in unsewn lengths.
Velense is a thick wool with a nap on one side that was used for blankets. It was also the word for blankets made of velense.
Yanbolu is a type of felt made in the Rumelian town of, yes, Yanbolu.[link] It was used mainly to make kebe, variously defined as carpets or as horse blankets.
The Textile Market in Istanbul and Bursa in the First Half of the Seventeenth Century: An Introduction, by Miki Iida-Sohma, has some useful, if sometimes post-period, fabric definitions.