I woke up to my phone vibrating. A new message from Sabri, our next Workaway host. Along with his address, he had told us to that’d he’d be around anytime after 6pm. What were we supposed to do until 6pm? I thought and went back to bed.
Some time later I woke up to the sound of Milo and Ubaid getting up. I grabbed my phone and was surprised to see that we had slept until 3pm. Milo and I gathered our belongings, thanked Ubaid again, and walked into Taksim. Wandering through alleys, we discovered that finding a reasonably priced and wifi-equipped restaurant to grab brunch at would be no easy task. When we finally found a spot, we took a seat and each ordered a beer to toast to the occasion.
When we had finished eating, Sabri sent a message saying that we were ok to come over anytime. As we walked to our next exchange, we found it interesting that a month prior we had walked on the very same road to our new place but unknowingly passed right by it. Down a side street, we unintentionally marched down a hill from the weight of our bags.
Nearing Sabri’s house number, we slowed down and knocked when we discovered it. At first, the place seemed unoccupied, with newspaper covering the outside of the door and bits of glass missing from the top right corner. To our surprise, the door opened and Sabri stood, smiling behind it.
As he welcomed us into his front room, we had difficulty believing our eyes. It was as if we had walked straight into Alice in Wonderland as circular pieces of wood lined the floor, green felt covered the walls, and all of his wacky hats that we would soon be making hung on felt tree branches wired into the walls.
Above us, felt flowers illuminated the room and to the side, wood shelves lined the wall with hats, masks, slippers, gloves, and more stacked on top of each other. Under the branches of hats, three chairs sat around a wooden table. One of the chairs was a felt stool modeled to look like a tree stump. In a corner, a tiny doorway stood surrounded by mushrooms. Milo and I looked at each other and smiled. We knew we were in for an amazing experience.
Through a doorway covered by many colors of felt drapes, we entered into Sabri’s workshop. As we stared at the rainbow assortment of felt rolls lining the wall, Sabri welcomed us inside with a glass of hot chai.
He and some of his friends collaged with trashpicked magazines while we began to talk and Milo and I continued to visually explore our surroundings. Sabri explained that we would be working 6 hours a day from noon until 6pm, 5 days a week from Monday to Friday. Unlike our two previous Workaways, Sabri seemed to have his figured out more concretely. We actually had clear working hours and days!
In university, Sabri had studied woodworking but not fully passionate about it, he stumbled upon a felting tutorial on YouTube which inspired him to create his first hat. That hat became one of many as he began to bulk buy more animal wool to turn into his wonderful creations.
Soon enough he had purchased a dedicated studio, bringing us to now, 7 years after crafting his first hat. He was making enough profit to afford the studio, support himself, support Workaway-ers, and even get all weekends off. He was living very comfortably and clearly loved what he was doing.
Most of Sabri’s business came from the website, Etsy.com, a marketplace for handcrafted and vintage items. He would often go to ship out packages to all over the world, from America to China. America actually happened to be his biggest client.
Showing us to our new room, Sabri gave us clean sheets to set up our bunkbed.
We put our bags down and spent the rest of the night writing and hanging out with him and his friends.
The next morning, Milo and I were ready to go by noon after making eggs from the fridge. Sabri was ready too and he showed us how to make rolls of felt with the ends unrolled. We used a water heater to constantly heat up water then pour it into a bucket and mix it with grated up soap.
We used olive oil soap specifically since it contained special binding properties when used with felt. Then using tea ladles, we dropped this soap water on the felt and rolled it with our hands over a wooden surface.
As he intended to hang these Lorax-like felt drapes in front of shelves, he needed many of them made.
At around 3pm I broke off to prepare lunch while Milo began on our first hat.
The Felt Hat Making Process
While we had been working on the drapes, Sabri worked at the table next to us, laying down pieces of colored felt on top of a cut out bubble wrap design for a hat. For each layer of felt, he’d use a high pressure water spraying machine to begin the initial binding process. After the whole layout had been complete, he passed the hat over to us. With one layer of bubble wrap covering the top and one covering the bottom, we began pouring water mixed with soap on top.
Re-covering the hat with wrap, we gently pressed around as multicolored water rushed out. More soap water, more pressing, and so on. Every few minutes, we’d flip the hat to change sides and do the same process. Milo and I took turns on and off.
After around 40 minutes, Sabri pointed out that there was a textural change as the fabric began to harden. When this had occurred, we could roll it from the top to the bottom, then from side to side, reinforcing the edges with every roll to ensure they maintained their shape.
To confirm moving onto the next step, Sabri showed us that you could look on the inside of the hat. If colors had faded through, then we grabbed the wooden surfaces that we had used for the drapes earlier to roll the hat on. Using this harder surface allowed the felt pieces to bind further.
Rolling on top of the wood, we continued to pour soap water over the hat and squeeze it in every which way. Around 20 minutes later, the hat was nearly finished and Sabri pulled the portion that fit around the head to show us how strong it now was.
The last step included rinsing the hat off with boiling water, rinsing it with cold water, squeegeeing the water out, towel drying it, then fitting it on a wooden head piece.
Usually Milo and I would return to our room to begin making dinner and when we’d come back out, the hat we had spent the whole day making had been totally transformed as Sabri would push or pull certain elements of it to create different shapes.
Each day after work, our hands would be the most wrinkled they had ever been since we had worked with so much water, always re-pouring some on hats every few minutes.
After eating dinner, Sabri took Milo and I out to go grocery shopping. He let us add anything we wanted to the cart and for the first time during a Workaway experience, we had access to more than pasta and vegetables! We added chicken, meat, cereal, tuna, and more to the cart. He also told us that if we ever needed food in the future, he would reimburse groceries anytime. This was the ideal Workaway scenario that we had envisioned when we found the site!
When we got back to his studio, Sabri went off with friends to see the supermoon. At 3am (the supposed best time for viewing the moon in Istanbul), Milo and I ventured outside too and began walking down İstiklal Avenue, the main street until we reached Galata Bridge where at least a hundred people were still out fishing. We walked across the bridge, but with clouds covering the moon, we didn’t stay out for long.
Our second working day began with rolling newly dyed felt onto metal poles that fit up on Sabri’s wall of colors.
Afterwards we spent the remaining day rolling carrot shaped felt for later use with hats.
Usually while working Sabri would play all different genres of music from traditional Turkish tunes to upbeat electro-swing. As I had just put on Nick Waterhouse for him to hear, a friend of his knocked at the door.
Dancing to Waterhouse, Cenk (Jenk) introduced himself to Milo and I and asked who had put the music on. He was a huge fan of Nick Waterhouse as well and we immediately began talking.
Now working as a professional actor, Cenk had originally studied fine arts but enjoyed acting more. His past experiences included voicing Harvey (Sabrina’s boyfriend) in the Turkish version of Sabrina the Witch, playing a lead role in the Turkish version of Game of Thrones, and working on countless commercials for Vodafone to Coca-Cola. He pulled up a few YouTube ads for us to see.
As the next week continued, Cenk began coming over more frequently as we quickly developed a close relationship with Sabri and him. Each day working, Milo and I began to not only look forward to making felt hats, but also to hear and show new music with Sabri and Cenk.
Along with music always playing we finally had access to a full fridge, allowing us to get as creative as we were with making hats as with cooking. On our third day, I made shakshuka, the Israeli dish that Stefi, a volunteer that we had met at Lisina once made while we were there. It turned out really well and Sabri enjoyed it for the first time.
He promised to make us menemen, a Turkish dish with similar ingredients but prepared differently.
After not making hats for a day, Milo and I were excited when Sabri had two hats laid out the next day. We simultaneously worked as Milo’s excess neon green soap water dueled with my red water between the two tables.
After work, we planned on meeting Jonathan and Diana, Jonas and my two friends who we had met at a hostel in Albania, then again at a cafe in Greece. They were now also in Turkey and invited Jonas, Milo, and I over to celebrate Jonathan’s birthday.
Milo and I walked 45 minutes mostly uphill until we reached their AirBNB apartment. We had arrived before Jonas since he had just landed from his return flight from Ukraine. As we waited, Jonathan, Diana, and I caught up as Milo quickly became as good of friends with them as Jonas and I had. About an hour later, Jonas arrived and Diana brought out a cake with candles on top. We sang happy birthday as Jonathan blew the candles.
The night went on until 3am and it was only after straw mustache craziness, several rounds of Cheers Governor, exploding firecrackers, and grilled cheese making that we went to bed.
My alarm woke me at 11am. A few minutes after waking Milo, we collected our bags, said our goodbyes to Jonathan and Diana, and rushed to the nearest metro. We made it back to the studio by 11:40ish where we prepared a quick cereal breakfast before getting ready for work. Although we were exhausted from the lack of sleep, as soon as we saw that we were building a cat house, our energy went right back up.
The making of the cat house followed the same steps as making a hat, the only difference was how large it was. It took the entire six hours to complete it and Milo and I switched off between the cat house and rolling additional drapes that Sabri intended on dying and hanging up to cover shelves behind his desk.
Friday morning we woke up so excited for the weekend. Although we enjoyed our work, we hadn’t had the proper chance to get out and explore the city. Originally Jonathan, Diana, and Jonas were going to come over to learn about the felting process but suddenly instead of making hats, we were working on dying felt. I sent a message to everyone, postponing the session until a later date. Milo and I spent the day helping Sabri with mixing dyes and dipping in felt. This all took place in a backroom of the studio and it looked like we could have been helping a wild chemist in a Breaking Bad series of his own.
After the day of dying colors with Sabri, Jonas, Ubaid, and a friend of Ubaid’s joined Milo and I in going to see ME, a Berlin based DJ performing at a nearby club called Indigo. The venue setup was ridiculous with holographic displays surrounding the DJ booth in the middle of the room. Ubaid and his friend left early but Jonas, Milo, and I stayed dancing, mesmerized by the visuals until around 4am. Since it was too late to catch a ferry back to the Asian side and taking a dolmuş would take too long, Jonas crashed at our studio.
In the morning, I was practically off the bed. Somehow Jonas and I had been partially successful in sharing my single mattress. Our plan for the day was to take a ferry over to Kadıköy, the neighborhood that Jonas had been living in, to let him show us around.
When we arrived, Jonas took us to a favorite restaurant to try Nohutlu Pilav, a dish of chicken, chickpeas, and rice. Content, we spent the rest of the day walking around Kadıköy, passing by many murals and stopping to browse around small vintage shops.
Jonas also led us to the colorful gypsy part of the neighborhood where we found a squat which served free dinners with trashpicked food each Saturday. They welcomed anyone to join to spread the message that as a world, we waste lots of food that could still be used. Unfortunately we came too early for dinner so we continued on our walk. On the outskirts of the neighborhood, Jonas led us to an Arabic graveyard and the tomb stones were so different from the ones that we were familiar with back home.
During sunset, we walked to Moda Park, the best hangout spot in Kadıkoy. It’s a large park, ruled by the stray dogs who live inside. They’re friendly but if you hear barking, you know they’re escorting someone else out. They either like you or they don’t and they’re by far the scariest bouncers in Europe (sorry Berghain).
Overlooking the park, we sat down for chai at a tea garden and watched the sun finish lowering behind the Sea of Marmara. After a month, the Bromads were back together.
Milo and I crashed at Jonas’ after meeting his roommates, Yiğit and Kaan, and friends, Ezgi and Hakan.
In the morning, we all rode a ferry back to Milo and my side to check out Istanbul’s Contemporary Art Museum. There were many great pieces there and we all broke apart to observe and appreciate them for several hours.
We left as the museum was closing and walked back to our studio. Since we still had about an hour and a half left of light, I led Jonas and Milo to a nearby abandoned row home which had caught my eye earlier during the week. We climbed through a basement window and quickly found the stairs up.
Each floor was empty except the top few which had old window frames, chairs, and even a TV. The painted colors of each room were beautiful.
Finally at the top floor, we climbed the ladder to the roof and got just what we had come for: an excellent view of the city for the sunset. I configured my camera to take a self-timed photo of us all as we watched the day’s light fade..
Night fell faster than we had anticipated so we carefully took our time leaving, making sure to stop on the bottom floors to examine the rays of street light being cast in from outside.
Back at the studio, we said goodbye to Jonas and sat down at our computers to figure out getting visas and the other recommended vaccinations for India. At Eklisia we had quickly changed our plans for the whole year and were now facing the consequences. Getting our visas and vaccinations to one country while traveling in another would be far more difficult than we could have ever expected…