FOR 60 YEARS, HE HAD KNOWN AND WORKED WITH FEET AND SPAN WHICH ARE MEASUREMENTS INHERITED BY HIS FATHER AND GRANDFATHER. BUT HIS PATTERNS NEVER DEVIATED AND REMAINED THE SAME ALL THESE YEARS. HE IS ALSO A UNESCO-AWARDED CRAFTSMAN.
“FELT CRAFTSMANSHIP FROM GRANDFATHER TO GRANDCHILD”
He started to stitch felt in elementary school. His advantage was being his own father’s apprentice… He had to work for his two sisters to be able to go to school. Ahmet Yaşar Kocataş lived and breathed stitching felt. He still continues to make and stitch felt in his shop in the historical Taşhan in Afyon. For 60 years, he had known and worked with feet and span which are measurements inherited by his father and grandfather. But his patterns never deviated and remained the same all these years. He is also a UNESCO-awarded craftsman.
The oldest known textile for mankind is felt… For stitching felt, wool, soap, water, mold, and a craftsman are required. It is a textile product which has not been abandoned since its use from the past times to the present day and its usage area is diversified day by day. When the need arises it is used like rugs or as the shepherd’s felt cloak. It is used in the form of a blanket for the children of women who go to plantations to work. Nowadays, it is an alternative for tourists and souvenirs. Carefully crafted blankets, patterned bags, vests, jackets, necklaces and so on by their craftsmen…
He is such a special craftsman that it had been 60 years of felt stitching in Afyon. He started this craft back in elementary school as his father’s apprentice. Although he enshrined education in his heart, his father gave this privilege to his three daughters instead. Felt craftsman Ahmet Yaşar Kocataş says that “My whole life just passed away in the felt workshop.” His labor shift began when he was still in elementary school in the workshop owned by his father, the school became of secondary importance… He expresses that he was obliged to work as his father was alone. He speaks of felt stitching which is a profession inherited by his grandfather saying:
“My father and even grandfather of my father used to stitch felts, this profession belongs to our family. By the time I finished elementary school, I was completely adapted to the workshop. It was not going anywhere else. My father was a genuine craftsman and he loved his job. I have been doing my job loving it as well. We used to earn our keep by stitching felts each and every day. I have never worked in anywhere else. We have continuously improved ourselves. Children of master craftsmen are lucky since master craftsmen do not hide any secrets from their children. They share their skills and knowledge with their children and not with strangers. I have also benefited from the advantage of being a child of a master craftsman. I have worked with my father until I was 45 and we have lived under the same roof. Our days and nights passed thinking and talking about our felt stitching job except for bedtime. We used to talk about felt drinking our tea in the evening at home. Which model shall we use, what will we do, how many kilograms shall we use? This practice enabled us to improve ourselves in terms of our job and led us to find the answer to the question of how can we do better. We used to discuss everything from manufacturing to sales. We have talked about the steps in the evening and implemented our steps during the day. Life has passed like this. Our mutual respect and esteem to each other were eternal. My father was a craftsman who avoided risky ventures. He was raised by Arpacıoğlu Mustafa Efendi. He was my father’s uncle at the same time. None of the pieces of work you now see here were available ten years ago. Now we have arrived somewhere more beautiful. As I have mentioned, we have attained our objectives taking advantage of craftsmanship.”
Yaşar Usta emphasized that his father was truly enlightened and stated that “I was the only son of my family. My sisters went to school while I mastered in felt craftsmanship. My father let my sisters go to school rather than me. If he sent me to school then my sisters would not be able to go to school. My father’s ideal was to ensure that his daughters earn money and get their feet on the ground. I have two daughters and a son and I have sent all three to school.”
From Wool Stage to End Product…
Yaşar Usta told us that they did not use to work during winter as they have worked with wet felt and stated that “Once the felt is frozen, the fibers are separated from each other and its life span is reduced in half” when sharing with us an important detail he had discovered with his father. He prioritizes the phase of the felt from wool stage to end product as below:
“First of all, we buy wool from peasants and merchants. The second step is to extract the useless substances in the wool, in other words, the carding process. We used to do this with the bow, now we’re doing it with the machine. After the carding process, we place the wool in large wicker molds. The amount of wool we put in the wicker mold eventually depends on the product we plan to make. We determine the measurements at this stage by feet based measurement. Afterward, we create a pattern. We again place a piece of wool on the design pattern so the pattern stays below the wool. The process applied to the felt for pattern design is different. We cast thin felt from raw wool and then we paint the felt. After painting, we cut the felt final and we design the patterns as we wish. The wool that has been poured into the wicker is beaten with a pulley. The forging process used to be done by foot, now we do it using the pulley. Then, the rolling up procedure is performed. Then, once more, the beating is applied to the felt and it is placed in the wet press. Then we pass on to the cooking stage with hot water and soap. Felt shrinks as we beat it; it becomes stronger as it gets smaller.”
Yaşar Usta emphasizes that they still use feet and hand span as measurement scales and states that: “We follow the paths of our grandfathers. There will not be the departure from the rule by no means. For example, I have been busy with felt embroidery for 60 years and I try to assimilate all of the patterns with each other if I design 10 patterns. In our business nobody imitates each other; they cannot dare to do so. Everybody has his own genuine models and patterns.”
Cloth Felt Era…
Yaşar Usta speaks of carpet felts used as ground clotting mat, felt cloaks worn by shepherds and felt clothing for children. Yet he states that cheap carpets’ and blankets’ appearance in the market cast a damper on the business and said that “this situation got a blow in our business.” Yaşar Usta told us that he learned to stitch cloth felt from the university professor Selçuk Gürışık in 2003 and mentioned about the latter process as below:
“Although we were successful in cloth felt manufacturing, I did not continue the production due to the fact that it is based on a university professor’s own work. But still, the first cloth felt was manufactured in my workshop. I initiated manufacturing once again when others started to produce and sell. I was taking orders from the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, but they sold the products by multiplying the cost by five. Thus I decided to sell myself, I do not take orders from them anymore. They price the same product at 400 liras which I price only 100 liras. The customer finds us. The hats and fez used in Ertuğrul series, the hats used in the Yunus Emre series are my works. I make prayer rugs from the felt, and the embossing felt is my unique work.”
Awarded by UNESCO
Upon the grant of UNESCO award in 2016, Yaşar Usta stated that he was included in an international-wide advertisement campaign which advises “If you ever go to Afyon, do not miss the chance to meet with Felt Craftsman Ahmet Yaşar Kocataş!” He says that there are people who stop by his workshop and he makes money.
I care about the exhibitions. I have been participating in exhibitions since 2003. Beyoğlu Municipality attaches great importance to art and culture and it is a municipality which supports us very much. We expect the same attention from Afyon. As long as our administrators show no interest in arts and in craftsmen, they will all perish and disappear. Altınköy in Altindağ is a very good example of what I have been trying to express.
I feel so happy indeed. I give consent to God’s sake. When I do my job, I do not think of money in the first place as there will definitely be a buyer. I primarily think of the essence which is art. Not one piece of work had remained unsold up to now. I don’t have a pattern book, all of my patterns are purely improvised. If my spirits are high and I am in a good mood, it is directly reflected in my patterns, and if I’m not, I get pessimistic patterns.”
People, in general, say that they do not win any money regardless of reality. They are cautious of the evil eye and they do not want the shopkeeper to hear about their income. My children are my apprentices at the same time, both my daughters and my son learned how to handle feeling. All of my children are teachers… When the school is closed for holidays, they help me for one month. They organize the works here. After UNESCO award, there had been candidates for an apprenticeship but only after spending half an hour with me in the workshop they have started to brag saying that “I am Yaşar Usta’s apprentice.” I have unfortunately lost my confidence so I do not accept applications for apprenticeship anymore.”
By: S.Bahar Alban / Photos: Fatma Kocataş
*This article was published in the March-April issue of Marmara Life.