Kilims are colourful, flat, tapestry-woven rugs woven by nomadic tribesmen and herders of Turkey, Persia, North Africa, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Afghanistan, Pakistan and China. Hand woven using hand spun wool, these rugs have bright, geometrical motifs and were traditionally used to store family wealth -- precious metals, hand-knotted carpets and even food grain.
Kilims can be most simply distinguished from Hand Knotted Carpets by the fact that they have no pile. Hence they are also known as Flatweave Rugs. Kilims are woven in a process by which the different coloured warps and wefts are tightly interwoven. In contrast, in pile rugs (or carpets) individual short strands of different color, usually of wool, are knotted onto the warps and held together by pressing the wefts tightly against each other. The separately knotted strands form the pile, and the design becomes clearly visible when the pile is trimmed to a level.
Unlike carpets, Kilims have traditionally been used not only as floor coverings, but also as saddles, curtains, cushions and bags.
Did You Know?
- Different Kilim designs are associated with different areas and tribes - good carpet dealers are able to identify a kilim's origins from the design even if they have no other information to go on.
- Traditionally kilims were woven by nomadic cattle-rearing people who feared wolf attacks. So a commonly found motif was a stylised wolf's-mouth, which acted in the same way as an amulet - to ward off the risk of attack.
Types of Kilims
Some of the best Kilims, Senneh have a slit weave -- which means that there’s a tight, narrow aperture wherever two colours meet in the design. Others, known as strip weaves, are typical tribal pieces woven on narrow portable looms, and joined together to make one large rug. Here’s a list of some types of Kilims --
- Ordinary Kilims, woven with hemp, cotton or wool.
- Suzāni Kilim, embroidered with raised figures after the ordinary Kilim is woven.
- Saddle Kilims, or Jol, are embroidered rugs used as horse or camel saddles.
- Masnads, sturdy and fine-woven decorative cushions.
- Gunny Kilim, woven with varicolored pieces of cloth.
- Sajādeh, Kilims woven with altar designs and used for prayers.
- Ghigh, reversible Kilims used on the walls of tents.
- Needle -work Kilim, woven with cotton thread, used as wall hangings.
The listing shows the different sorts of uses that Kilims were traditionally put to. This is an important point of differentiation with Hand Knotted carpets, which were almost always used as floor coverings only.
Characteristics of Kilims
Traditionally, Kilims were always made for personal use. So Kilim weavers used hand spun wool of whatever livestock they possessed (camels, goats and sheep mostly) and hand dyed it with Natural Dyes. This mixed animal wool absorbed the dye unevenly, leading to attractive colour variations in the woven kilim, known as the Abrash effect.
Another characteristic of Kilims is that their colours and motifs give a fair idea of where they are from, since these are tribe and area-specific. So while the large, open patterns of Turkish Kilims often combine vibrant blue shades like aqua and turquoise with reds, the ones from Persia (Iran) use traditional reds and navy blue shades with smaller motifs.
The motifs used on Kilims are usually symbolic, and people who understand the can make fairly accurate deductions about the life and times of the Kilim weaver. For more, see Symbolism of Kilim Motifs Often woven in the olden days by young girls for their dowries, many older Kilims speak of love and longing, birth and death, marriage and separation.
Kilims in Modern Home Decor
To see pictures of Kilims used in different home decor styles, go to Kilims for Home Decor
- What Are Kilims?
- Kilim – The Complete Guide, Alastair Hull and Jose Luczyc-Wyhowska; 1993; published by Thames and Hudson Ltd, London