KILIM: A Traditional Element of Authentic Homes

KILIM: A Traditional Element of Authentic Homes
Chic, hip, almost indestructible, and practical—vintage kilim rugs are purely authentic elements of living spaces.

A beautiful rug can solve a multitude of looks — whether it is adding some more colour, to accompany the overall decorative vibe, or to cover up an ugly part of the floor. While vintage and weighty Persian rugs will never go out of style, there is another type of floor textile that creates this highly effective yet elegant effect: kilim.

Kilim, a word of Turkish origin, denotes a pileless textile of many uses produced by one of several flat weaving techniques that have a common or closely related heritage and are practiced in the geographical area that includes parts of Turkey (Anatolia and Thrace), North Africa, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Central Asia and China. It consists of vibrant colours embroidered with thin and thick embroidery with geometric patterns or stripes. Ahmed Vefik Pasha, a Turkish literary name, used the term “thin and lint-free carpet” when describing the rug.

It is known as a slightly different decoration element from other types of carpets. With its motifs, weaving techniques, and history, it emerges as one of the really effective tools for creating authentic living spaces that have a story and depth. Kilims are flat-woven rugs, which means that they are on the thin side of the rug spectrum. It is much lighter, in terms of both weight and appearance, therefore making it a perfect option to complete the look in a traditional summer house.   

Certainly, the areas where kilims look best are those where traditional styles prevail. Rather than avant-garde, living spaces in which simplicity and naturalism are effective are quite suitable for kilims. In this context, you can use kilim as a completion of Mediterranean style interiors without hesitation. 

However, kilims are used for different purposes and in different places. Eclectic decorations for example, are made by combining different styles in harmony. It brings together a rich new style by mixing in modern and traditional, old and new.  Kilim models with plain motifs can easily adapt to many different styles which is what makes it practical and beautiful. 

Today, they can be purely decorative or can function as prayer rugs. Modern kilims are popular floor coverings in many households, creating a chic and bohemian atmosphere.

A Brief History of Kilim

It is believed that the kilim has a history of more than 4.000 years. The oldest piece woven with the kilim technique that has reached today, belongs to  pharaohs Egypt in the dynastic period of XVIII., and It was excavated from the tomb of IV. Tuthmosis  (1425-1408 B.C.). 

In Gordion (Yassıhöyük) excavations in Anatolia, weaving pieces similar to sumac and cicim methods of kilim weaving made of wool, goat hair, linen belonging to the Phrygians (1200-600 B.C.) were also found.

Another very old kilim found during excavations in Troy, which is thought to be dating back to 2.300 B.C. and was named the queen’s veil.” However, there is no exact information about the piece. It would be wrong to say that this type of weaving is limited only to the Eastern Mediterranean geography. Similar pieces in Southern Siberia, Northern Mongolia, and even Peru show that this type of weaving has been known on every continent since time immemorial.

A kilim can be considered as an element that embodies the multicoloured and multinational history of Anatolia, which has hosted hundreds of different civilisations throughout its ancient history. 

More recently, kilims were produced in the countries of the former Ottoman Empire, and were used for everything from tent hangings and floor covers to storage sacks. It is very likely to encounter a sight of kilim in mosques in Turkey. 

There is very little evidence of the oldest examples of these handicraft products, as the weavings are easily decomposed by external factors.

Motifs and Colours

Kilim patterns generally consist of geometric motifs due to the weaving technique. Blue, orange, green, navy blue, red, pink, and rosewood are among the most commonly used colours.

Patterning of the kilim surface is possible in three ways.

  • Pre-woven rugs are used as models.
  • The weaver patterns and colours it as it comes from within.
  • Pre-drawn patterns are used.

Motifs and patterns provide the transmission of traditions, customs, values and beliefs from generation to generation and communication between the past and the future within the structure of society.

Many motifs are used in Turkish kilims, each with many variations. A few examples are illustrated here, with meanings as described by Güran Erbek in Kilim

“A widely used motif is the elibelinde, a stylised female figure, motherhood and fertility. Other motifs express the tribal weavers’ desires for protection of their families’ flocks from wolves with the wolf’s mouth or the wolf’s foot motif, or for safety from the sting of the scorpion. Several motifs hope for the safety of the weaver’s family from the evil eye (Turkish: Nazarlık, also used as a motif), which could be divided into four with a cross symbol, or averted with the symbol of a hook, a human eye, or an amulet.”

Elibelinde, a stylised female figure, symbol of motherhood and fertility.

Symbol of the evil eye, hoping safety for the weaver’s loved ones.

Amulet motif.

There are many other motifs such as a bird, star, or even the oriental symbol of Yin/Yang.

Weaving Techniques

The weaving techniques, colours and motifs used in kilims differ according to the regions. Middle Eastern peasants and nomads create eye-catching textile art using many different weaving techniques.
Various loom and weaving techniques used in kilim weaving are used for different purposes. 
  • Plain Weaving: Kilims are made by rotating the wefts on the warp and leaving buttonholes where the colours change.
  • Cicim or Jijim or Jajim: These are kilims woven in narrow strips that are sewn together. While its base is woven by one person, the embroidery is woven by a second person at the same time without a buttonhole.
  • Zili: This is a rough supplementary-weft method used to decorate practical objects such as mats, sacks, cushions and tents.
  • Sumac: Both the sole and the embroidery are woven by one person at the same time. Sumacs are only woven in certain places.




Turkish knot. - Iranian knot.

There are two basic types of knots used in kilim weaving. The first is called the double knot, Turkish knot or Gördes knot and naturally offers a tighter weave that allows for a stronger and more durable rug. The second is called the single knot, the Iranian knot or the year knot. various rug weavings are produced from five basic materials; sheep wool, goat hair, cotton, floss and silk. The quality of wool varies according to the climate, the type of sheep and the season and time of shearing.

It is difficult to find out the exact age of a rug, as there are similarities in technique and motif. However, by tracing up the yarn and colour used in the making of a kilim, an estimation can be made. A kilim is named according to the place it is weaved at (Emirdağ, Karasu, etc.), tribe (nomad, avşar, etc.), or motif (ibrikli, bindallı, etc.).

What Makes Kilim (Rug) Different Than a Carpet? 

  • Kilim is a thin type of carpet. Carpets are generally thick, rugs are woven thinly. The methods of making both are different.
  • Since kilims are made with ancient techniques, it is not that common in many homes today.
  • Carpet sizes are larger and wider than kilims.
  • Kilims are not exactly woven. This can be explained as the entangling of the threads and knitting them to each other.
  • In carpet making, it is looped with the double knot method and cut with scissors. This technique is used for each loop.
  • One million knots can be tied for a one meter silk carpet.
  • It usually takes one month to make kilim rugs, and the time to weave a wool rug can take up to 4-5 months. Silk carpets take at least one year.
  • The patterns of rugs are generally more symmetrical, this symmetry is not sought in carpets.
  • Carpets are more expensive, kilims are cheaper.
  • Carpets can be put all over the home, but kilims are only put to certain areas.
Handicrafts have a great influence and importance in the concrete reflection of the material and spiritual values of a society. The geography, lifestyle, culture, tastes and traditions of that society play a major role in the emergence of handicrafts. More importantly, handicrafts play a leading role in the transfer of these values to the next generations. There are many branches of handicrafts, yet today we salute kilim and its unique weaving.

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