Knitters have a door, but no apprentices

Passing by the doors for quilt, carpet and yarn sellers, we finally arrive at the door of knitters. “There must be a hell of a lot of master knitters in this street,” we assume. Soon we realize that we’re wrong. All around are souvenir shops. “The knitters have a door, but that street has only one master,” shop-owners note before pointing at the stone-covered courtyard. Without disturbing those who are taking ablution at the fountain and those queuing for the WC, we enter a small store. What we find in that store is quite different from what we expect to find. Smiling, knitting master Metin Cubukcu shows us chairs on which he invited us to sit. He has so much to tell. We glance at the bags, clogs, fezes, packed like sardines, in the room. Aware of our curiosity, he starts to tell his story.

Cubukcu says he learned the art in the years when masters were very strict about their profession. We are convinced when he says there were dozens of knitters inside the walls. The chief master of the art was Sukru Bey in the early or mid-1960s. Cubukcu married the chief master’s only daughter. This marriage introduced him to the world of needles and magnifying glasses. Seeing his skills in the art and patience, the chief master taught him the art of knitting.

Polyester is killing the art

Cubukcu has had many experiences during the 40 years he has been in the business. The number of people who look for him, like we had, has diminished over time. He explains why: “Everything changed with the invention of polyester. In the past, people would buy sweaters made of pure wool. They couldn’t throw them away seeing that they got better and better through use. Naturally, they would get them repaired. But now, polyester and other synthetic products dominate the sector. No one cares to spend money on something they will eventually throw away.” Although he learned the art as an apprentice to his father-in-law, he currently has no apprentice to whom to teach the art. In an embarrassed manner, he discloses that he cannot earn sufficient amounts of money. “Several years ago, I had a store located in a good spot in the bazaar. Six months of work would pile up. Unable to keep up with the pace, I gave up the store. A friend of mine allowed me to work in this store for my subsistence,” he says. On some days, no one places an order. Asked how he makes a living, he says he can rely on his pension. He delves into memories in a somewhat reproachful or mischievous manner. “Once, a knitter in Nisantası would bring the coats of celebrities to me for repair. But he would boast, saying it was him who repaired them. For so long, he brought me those coats and earned a commission. This I learned later. He made a fortune with high commissions,” he says.

Seeing him working with needles and yarn, you might think he is working at a laboratory. He carefully examines the rips or tears. He has to spend long hours in the small store. He says that the most time he has had to work under a tiny source of light amounted to around 24 hours as was the case with his largest order. Of course, he completed the job by doing it piecemeal, occasionally getting away from it by taking small breaks. Looking at tiny knots for hours, one has to take such breaks. “Otherwise, you get blackouts. Your head starts to spin. But I can’t get any sleep without repairing that rip,” he says, brimming with pride. We ask how the last masters of the art are doing. “I think there are currently five masters at most in Turkey,” he says. While one does not need much capital to start this business, young people shy away from it. The reason is that they have no notion of repair, which was [still] very popular about 15 years ago. Moreover, wool, cashmere and fleece are expensive. Knitters tend to repair quality fabrics made of them. When Cubukcu and his like quits, we will have to throw away our old coats.