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What is a Kilim?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 August 2016
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A kilim is a type of woven rug which is characterized by bright, bold designs. Kilims are made in Turkey and many parts of the Middle East, and they are frequently offered for sale in Middle Eastern markets and carpet stores. It is also possible to find kilims in antique shops and in Western stores which specialize in imported textiles and carpeting.

Like many textiles, the kilim is designed to be used, rather than purely ornamental. As a result, few kilims more than around 100 years old survive, as wear grinds down the weaving and the threads slowly rot away. In a few instances, unique circumstances have preserved a kilim; one of the oldest known such examples is from around the fifth century CE. This rug suggests that the history of the kilim is quite ancient, and that Middle Eastern people have been weaving kilims for thousands of years.

To make a kilim, the weaver stretches cotton or linen warp threads on a loom and then weaves brightly colored weft threads to create a pattern. The rug is typically so tightly woven that no sign of the plain warp threads can be seen. These rugs typically have geometric or floral themes, and many kilims contain references to the areas in which they are made, such as tribal insignia. When the rug is finished, the warp threads are tied off to create a fringe.

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One distinctive feature of the classical kilim is the slits in the design. Many weavers simply switch off when they need new colors, rather than interweaving them, and as a result the rug acquires small slits along the sides of its patterns. In some cases, these slits may be sewn together, but some collectors actively seek rugs with slits because they find them more valuable. Slit weave rugs tend to have very bright, easy to distinguish patterns, while interwoven rugs have patterns with more blurry, nebulous edges.

The flat weave of a kilim makes it thin, with no pile, and sometimes very coarse, depending on the fibers used for the weft. Cotton, wool, and silk are all fairly common choices of fiber. In addition to being used as floor coverings, kilims are also used as wall hangings to help insulate homes, and as prayer rugs and saddle pads. They are closely associated with the nomadic tribes of the Middle East, many of whom continue to produce and sell traditional kilims.

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