The Enduring Appeal of Kilims

Characterized by captivating colors, graphic geometric patterns, and flatwoven forms, the kilim holds a vibrant history that spans centuries and reflects a rich compilation of cultural influences. The pileless, tapestry-woven rugs and textiles are regarded by many as a material representation of the crossroads between Eastern and Western cultures, . “History records the kilim originating in the Anatolia region of Turkey, between the Black and Mediterranean seas, dating back to the 11th century A.D. and as early as 7000 B.C.,” says Gavin McDowell, Global Design Director of Oriental Weavers Hospitality. “This ancient art form was a medium for cultural story telling by the Turkmen Tribes, as they moved between Iran, turkey and Afghanistan.” The information below explores the unique origins, motifs, and methods of weaving that kilims comprise.

Origins and Motifs

While the time-honored heritage of kilims is uncontested, a complete, clear-cut account of their precise origins is not known. It is assumed that the first kilims were created in ancient times before there was a recorded history, as no record of their construction can be traced. However, it is well-understood that Kilims have held variety of purposes since they first emerged. “Kilim art creatively captures moments of cultural heritage, tradition, and self-expression through this artisan medium,” says McDowell. “Geometric design motifs and the art of symbolism communicate a human condition, representing animals, plants and narratives of good health, fortune, fertility, motherhood and protection from harm.”

Photography Courtesy of Oriental Weavers Hospitality

In addition to adorning interiors with colorful accents for thousands of years, kilims have been woven to serve utilitarian purposes. “Antique Turkish kilims were not only used domestically as practical textiles, to cover floors, used as tablecloths, furniture upholstery, even shoes and bags, but where also treasured as heirloom pieces, dowries, wall hangings, and prayer rugs,” says McDowell. Many kilims were transported along the travels of nomadic tribes of the Middle East, as their lightweight and flatwoven construction allows them to be easily folded and carried.

Techniques and Influence

The techniques used in the weaving of kilims have been passed down from traditional practices originating in the countries of the former Persian Empire, including Iran, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Turkey, and Central Asia. “The word ‘kilim’ comes from the Persian word ‘gelim,’ which means ‘to spread roughly,’” says McDowell. “Kilim, dhurrie, and sumac are terms synonymous with pileless handwoven flat textiles, typically of Persian and Indian origin.” Made of interwoven and warps and wefts of various colors, kilims are created by weaving with the flatweave technique. “Traditionally both the warps and wefts were made of naturally dyed wool, accounting for rich color penetration but wool yarn was mixed with cotton fibers also,” says McDowell. “Sometimes other coarser animal hair such as camel, horse, and goat hair were used to accent. On occasion, silk was used in specialty kilim textiles, to reflect status. Modern kilims have about 14 threads of warp and 16 threads of weft per inch.”

Photography Courtesy of Oriental Weavers Hospitality

The distinctive flatweave techniques used to create kilims are distinguishable from those used in the construction of carpets or pile rugs, which involve tying knots or applying pressure to hold the rug together. “Traditional Kilim textiles are uniquely different from pile carpets because the design in a pile carpet is made visible through the presentation of cut pile yarn ends to the face of the weave,” explains McDowell. “In a Kilim textile, the warp and weft threads are interwoven through each other, creating a flat weave structure.” There are a several different varieties of flatweaves that are employed to create the characteristic patterns of kilims. These include the plain weave, the slit weave, dovetailing, and brocading. “Geometric and diagonal motifs were traditionally created using different weave techniques, however basic Kilim motifs were woven using integrated wefts of various colors, woven through warps of different colors. Weft faced plain weaving was traditionally one of the simplest weaving techniques were dyed weft threads were woven into warp threads to create a single block of color, also creating a reversible image.

Photography Courtesy of Oriental Weavers Hospitality

With a recent rise in popularity, the reemergence of traditional kilims across contemporary interiors is a testament to the enduring appeal of their worldly, well-traveled aesthetic. Meanwhile, modern renditions of kilims embody a continuation of these cultural traditions. Adaptations of highly patterned, brightly colored, flatwoven kilims continue to capture the creatively rich design aesthetic, advancing a diverse source of inspiration for the design industry. “Much of the storytelling we do in our daily custom project work pays homage to the same ancient traditions of storytelling in carpet arm,” says McDowell. “With many collective years of weaving knowledge, our designers create a sense of space, through scale of design motifs, understanding how to create tactile illusion through faux texturing in a cut pile medium and the careful application of sophisticated color palette blends and high luster yarn accents, to further provide a 21st century product. Classic, traditional, or eclectic, at Oriental Weavers Hospitality we enjoy a resource of over 26,000 designs in our extensive design archive, many inspired by the design imagery of a flat weave tradition and the indigenous cultures who created them.”

More to Learn