A collection of rugs and pillows at Chestnut Hill’s Woven Legends. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

A collection of rugs and pillows at Chestnut Hill’s Woven Legends. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

by Leslie Feldman

The rise in factory-made textiles has many missing the beauty that only can be found in true authentic art.  Turkish-born Neslihan Jevremovic is not only dedicating to changing that trend, she’s dedicated to helping Syrian refugees along the way.

Jevremovic is the owner of Woven Legends, located at 8140 Germantown Ave. in Chestnut Hill. Her handmade rugs are known for their exquisite, heirloom-quality produced in Turkey, and have been industry leaders and innovators for more than three decades. Collectors of antique oriental carpets, as well as individuals furnishing a home or business, find beautiful, contemporary handmade carpets that are the equal of carpets woven centuries ago.

Since 2011, Jevremovic’s visionary Anka Project, referring to an ancient mythical bird which obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor, has trained young Syrian women in Turkish refugee camps to become skilled weavers, providing hope and dignity to hundreds without permanent shelter, jobs or dreams of a future.

“Working as a weaver entails developing a refined skill set under expert supervision – which is why the refugee training program is so special.  As an American and a native Turk, I feel a personal and moral obligation to participate in a project that promotes art and life,” Jevremovic said.

Her personal rapport with the refugees convinces her that her organization can build on the present work exponentially.

“In a world where the headlines are dominated every day by stories about the refugee crisis, this operation has been an undeniable success, one lauded by the Turkish government crisis organization – AFAD –  in charge of the camps, as a model of how to provide refugees lasting and long-term support,” she explains.

Traditionally in Turkey, weavers who work outside of their home are young, unmarried women in their teens. Once married, 99 percent no longer weave and if they do, it is in the western part of Turkey.

“Because of this turnover, there is always a need for a fresh new pool of young weavers,” she explains. “Giving the work to these girls is a significant and meaningful accomplishment for many reasons. If their daughter is working, her family does not tend to think of her as just another mouth to feed. That means they are not rushing to marry her off. I see weaving as a way to empower them to become confident women and surely they will mature to be better mothers.”

She explains that her Turkish weavers work in the security and the familiar environment of their villages where the pay is by the knot.

“It is up to them how much or how little they work. They plan their time based on the needs of their family and the agriculture season. The atelier is there because the looms would not fit their homes; it also serves as a social place where young girls bond with each other and their teachers,” she said.

There are currently six workshop tents consisting of 69 looms and 216 active weavers. Woven Legend’s started a second weaving project in 2015 in the Harran, Urfa refugee camp with 13 looms and 25 weavers, and hopes to do even more in the future.

Jevremovic personally travels six months of the year closely monitoring materials, dyeing, designing, weaving and finishing operations. She stays close to her customers worldwide understanding their market needs and the effects of the fashion world.

Given the turnaround of the manufacturing/marketing cycle of handmade carpets – which is extremely labor-and time-intensive – the lag period from loom-to-room has required Woven Legends to monitor all aspects of the production closely. She also oversees production p in Yugoslavia, Romania, Pakistan and India.

Woven Legends, 8140 Germantown Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19118, 215-849-8344, www.wovenlegends.com.

Leslie Feldman is a freelance writer. She can be reached at Feldmanpr@verizon.net.

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