The Modern Towel was Invented in Turkey
The Turkish Towel or peştemal (pesh-te-mal) as it is known in Turkey is where the story of the ‘humble towel’ all began…….
The invention of the towel is commonly associated with Turkey in the 17th century. These Turkish towels began as a flat, woven piece of cotton or linen called a peştemal, often hand-embroidered. Long enough to wrap around the body, they were used in Turkish Baths as they stayed light when wet and were very absorbent.
As the Ottoman Empire grew, so did the use of the towel. Weavers were asked to embroider more elaborate designs, aided by their knowledge of carpet-weaving. By the 18th century, towels began to feature loops sticking up from the pile of the material. These looped towels became known as havly; over time, this word has changed to havlu, the Turkish word for towel, and means ‘with loops’.
The indispensable terry towel that we all know and love, was first brought to the UK from Turkey in the 1850s by the famous towel company W.M Christy & Sons Ltd. A long established manufacturer of household linens and the inventor of the first industrially produced looped cotton, Christy’s son discovered peshtemals while travelling in Istanbul. He worked with Turkish weavers to develop a method for weaving the looped pile fabric that we now know as Terry towelling. The first Christy towel factory opened in 1850.
When we embarked on our Pazaar venture...we had no idea that the 'humble towel' had such a rich history. But, to be honest until Pazaar, a towel has always been, well...just a towel. I never gave their history much thought!
Our peshtemals are always an interesting point of conversation with our family & friends. They are always curious when we begin to tell them tales of where the first towels were invented.
And...would you believe it?
We have our own (very) distant family connection to the peshtemal story. A relative on my fathers side; Vicky, visited us in Porthmadog shortly after we moved back to the UK from Turkey. On her first evening with us, she emerged holding the most delicate and beautiful peshtemal. The story goes a bit like this; for most of his working life, her grandfather worked for Christies towel company. As a child, her grandfather often talked to her about the history of the towel and Christies work with the Turkish weavers in Istanbul. On Queen Victoria's Silver Jubilee in 1897, every employee at Christies received a commemorative peshtemal from Turkey. Vicky is now the proud owner of this beautiful peshtemal. It felt kind of special to hear her story and hold this peshtemal at the start of our own journey with peshtemals and Pazaar.
Take a peek at our peshtemal collection here