The towel was a very important part of Turkish social life and continues to be so. Originally, it had many uses such as, for the ceremonial bath of a bride before her wedding and for important occasions later in life.
History of the Towel
Of course, the hamam also has had an undeniable relationship with these luxurious towels, as had the royalty of the Ottoman Empire. The towel would still be a drab piece of cloth were it not for the the intercession of the Ottomans in the 17th century. Special thanks must go to the women in the palace that pushed their weavers to make more and more exquisite pieces.They brought style, design and flair to towels.
The hamam towel, called "pestamel" was and still is a flat woven piece of material, which was long enough to wrap around the body. Originally they were quite narrow, but later they grew to be wider. Now most pestamel are about 90cm x 170cm. Originally, most pieces were made with cotton and/or linen and then embroidered by hand. They were very practical for the hamam as they stayed light when wet and were very absorbent.
The Demand for Luxury
Each generation of women in the palace continued to demand new designs, each more beautiful than the last. Luxury towels were of the utmost importance. With this creative drive being thrust upon the weavers, the birth of the first looped towel happened sometime in the 18th century. The new invention was called 'havly' and it sported rows of loops making up little rectangular clusters.
The weavers had cleverly used a second warp thread and pulled it above the surface of the towel and then locked it in place along the length of the warp thread with the shuttle or weft thread. As time went on, they increased the number of looping threads until soon the entire 'havly' was covered in loops. This was the beginning of what we know to be a towel today.
The "Havly" Technique
Over time, the name "havly" has changed to havlu in Turkish, which means 'with loops.' There's one family of weavers and their workers left in Turkey who still know how do to this technique on the old-style looms. However, this art is on the verge of extinction, so we need to support this art form to save it!