What are Kilims

Different samples of Kilims (Kelim) in different qualities with a rare pure silk Shamlu Kilim on the right

What is a Kilim?

The Kilim (also known as Kelim, Gelim and Gilim) rugs are the most well known of the Oriental flat weaves, similar to the South American Najavo rugs.

Kilim, a word of Turkish origin, denotes a pileless textile of many uses produced by one of several flatweaving 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.

Although at times you may find kilim rugs included in the general genre of "oriental rugs", in more accepted practice kilims are in a class of their own.

The major difference between a kilim rug and a carpet or a pile rug is that whereas the design visible on a pile rugs is made by individual short strands of different color being knotted onto the warps and held together by pressing the wefts tightly, kilim designs are made by interweaving the variously colored wefts and warps, thus creating what is known as a flatweave. This makes the rug thinner and therefore lighter, making it ideal as a throw or a wall hanging work of art. It now has 'practical uses' other than a colourful floor covering.

Kilim weaving techniques

A Ghorde knot (left) for a piled carpet vs a flat weave for a Kilim rug

Their colour comes from the weft which is tightly intertwined with the warp. Rather than an actual pile, the foundation of these rugs gives them their design and colour. The weft is woven between the warp until a new colour is needed, then is looped back round and knotted. Between colours in most Kilim rugs there is a vertical slit, this is created with the weave pulls the warp strings away from each other and is unique to Kilims. This ‘slit woven’ design is loved by collectors who find the sharp etched designs, emphasising the colourful weave, mesmerising. The weft is almost always wool, while the warp can be either cotton or wool.

Because Kilims take less time to weave than pile-weaves they are generally less expensive. However, the idea of Kilims being considered as somehow less of a rug is a perception that no longer exists. Their recent popularity has driven them to be extremely collectable and their command of cost has risen as a result. Because these rugs are still very much true to their roots and not woven with the export market in mind, a buyer gets a real sense of authenticity, a rug woven with traditional patterns and colours rather than one which may have been standardised or adapted to suit the Western market. Kilims (along with jewellery, clothing and animals) are important for the identity and wealth of nomadic tribe-people. In their traditional setting they are used as floor and wall coverings, horse-saddles, storage bags, bedding and cushion covers. In recent times the production of many of these items has become.

Kilim rugs are woven, the weft inter-linked with the warp, using different colours of wool to create the rugs pattern. While Kilims are flat-woven there are many part Kilim, part pile rugs available. Mushwani, Herati and Qualane to name a few.

Kilims are also excellent as use as wall hangings, similar to tapestries they are light weight and decorative pieces.

Kilim weaving techniques

Just some of the different weaving techniques that create basic and finer detailed finished items