Kilims (Persian: گلیم gelīm, Azerbaijani: Kilim کیلیم, Turkish: Kilim, Turkmen: Kilim) are flat tapestry-woven carpets or rugs produced from the Balkans to Pakistan. Kilims can be purely decorative or can function as prayer rugs. Modern kilims are popular floor-coverings in Western households.
The term 'kilim' originates from the Persian gelīm (گلیم) where it means 'to spread roughly', perhaps of Mongolian origin. The Turkish name is kilim.
Like pile carpets, kilim have been produced since ancient times. The explorer Mark Aurel Stein found kilims dating to at least the fourth or fifth century CE in Hotan, China:
"As kilims are much less durable than rugs that have a pile to protect the warp and weft, it is not surprising that few of great age remain.... The weave is almost identical with that of modern kilims, and has about fourteen threads of warp and sixteen threads of weft to the inch. The pattern consists of narrow stripes of blue, green, brownish yellow, and red, containing very small geometric designs. With this one exception, so peculiarly preserved, there are probably very few over a century old."
Kilims are produced by tightly interweaving the warp and weft strands of the weave to produce a flat surface with no pile. Kilim weaves are tapestry weaves, technically weft-faced plain weaves, that is, the horizontal weft strands are pulled tightly downward so that they hide the vertical warp strands.
When the end of a color boundary is reached, the weft yarn is wound back from the boundary point. Thus, if the boundary of a field is a straight vertical line, a vertical slit forms between the two different color areas where they meet. For this reason, most kilims can be classed as "slit woven" textiles. The slits are beloved by collectors, as they produce very sharp-etched designs, emphasizing the geometry of the weave. Weaving strategies for avoiding slit formation, such as interlocking, produce a more blurred design image.
The weft strands, which carry the visible design and color, are almost always wool, whereas the hidden warp strands can be either wool or cotton. The warp strands are only visible at the ends, where they emerge as the fringe. This fringe is usually tied in bunches, to ensure against loosening or unraveling of the weave.
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 stylized 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 (Turkish: Kurt Aǧzi, Kurt İzi), or for safety from the sting of the scorpion (Turkish: Akrep). 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 (Turkish: Haç), or averted with the symbol of a hook (Turkish: Çengel), a human eye (Turkish: Göz), or an amulet (Turkish: Muska; often, a triangular package containing a sacred verse). Such an amulet woven into a rug is not a picture of the thing itself: it actually is an amulet, conferring protection by its presence.
Other motifs symbolised fertility, as with the trousseau chest motif (Turkish: Sandıklı), or the explicit fertility (Turkish: Bereket) motif. The motif for running water (Turkish: Su Yolu) similarly depicts the resource literally. The desire to tie a family or lovers together could be depicted with a fetter motif (Turkish: Bukaǧı). Several other motifs represented the desire for good luck and happiness, as for instance the bird (Turkish: Kuş) and the star or Solomon's seal (Turkish: Yıldız). The oriental symbol of Yin/Yang is used for love and unison (Turkish: Aşk ve Birleşim).
Because kilims are often cheaper than pile rugs, beginning carpet collectors often start with them. Despite what many perceive as their secondary (or inferior) status to pile carpets, kilims have become increasingly collectible in themselves in recent years, with quality pieces now commanding high prices. What some sensed as inferiority was actually a different nature of rugs woven for indigenous use as opposed to rugs woven on a strictly commercial basis. Because kilims were not a major export commodity, there were no foreign market pressures changing the designs, as happened with pile carpets. Once collectors began to value authentic village weaving, kilims became popular. Three factors then combined to reduce the quality of the West's newly discovered kilims. The first was a development in industrial chemistry. An important element in the attractiveness of traditional rugs is abrash, the dappled appearance resulting from variation in shade of each colour caused by hand-dyeing of the yarn. The synthetic (aniline-derived) dyes introduced late in the Victorian era abolished abrash, giving brilliant colours which however often faded with time. A second factor was the loss of the nomadic way of life across Central Asia. Once people had settled, the tribal character of their weavings faded. A third factor was a direct consequence of the kilim's new-found marketability. As rugs began to be made for export and money rather than personal use, the local style and social significance of each type of carpet was lost. Patterns and colours were chosen to suit the market, rather than woven according to tradition and to suit the needs of the weaver's family and the weaver's own hopes and fears.Ordinary kilims: this type of kilim is woven with hemp, cotton and also wool threads.
Gunny kilim: this special type is woven with varicolored pieces of cloth.
Suzāni kilim: this type is embroidered with raised figures after the ordinary kilim is woven.
Needlework kilim: this type of kilim is hung on the wall and is woven with cotton threads.
Jol (جل): this is a kind of kilim the surface of which is embroidered. With their decorative designs, they are used as horse saddles.
Palās or Palaz (پلاس): this is a kind of kilim in which each color is used for weaving several rajs, it does not have a pile. Palas is also the name used for the coarse woollen robes dervish wear.
Jājim (جاجیم) or chador-shab (چادرشب): this is a kind of striped carpet woven with colored threads and thinner than palas.
Zilu (زیلو): this is a kind of kilim woven with cotton threads and simple designs quite in harmony with rural life. It has a cotton warp and weft.
Rakht-e-khāb pich (رختخوابپیچ, "bed-packing"): this type of kilim is used by migrating tribes.
Charkhi-bāf kilim (چرخیباف): this is a kind of sturdy and thick kilim only one side of which can be used.
Khorjin (saddle-bags) and Juwals: these kilims are used for carrying goods.
Gilimcheh (گلیمچه, "small kilim"): these are woven like kilims but tiny and decorative.
Masnads: these are sturdy and fine-woven decorative kilimeches.
Navār-chādor (نوارچادر, "tent-band"): this type of kilim is decorative.
Sajādeh (سجاده, prayer kilims): these are woven with altar designs and are used for praying.
Ghigh: this kilim is used for the walls of tents; both of its side are the same and can be used alike.
Rah Rah (گلیم راهراه): These kilims (or, more precisely, soumak rugs) are woven mostly in the Sirjan region and are also called khatti design kilims. Ardebil and Moghan are woven in the same design but in lower qualities.
Kamoo Sofreh (سفره کامو): These Sofrehs are woven mostly in Kamoo and are also called Natural design Sofrehs.
Chiprovski Kilim, of Bulgaria
Pirot Kilim, of Serbia
Perhaps the best known and most highly regarded, these kilims (or kelims) are traditionally distinguished by the areas, villages or cities in which they are produced, such as Konya, Malatya, Karapinar and Hotamis. Most Anatolian kilims are slit woven. Larger antique kilims were woven in two to three separate sections on small nomadic horizontal floor looms in three feet wide long strips, then carefully sewn together matching the patterns edges to create an ultimately wider rug. These pieces are still being produced in very limited quantities by nomadic tribes for their personal use and are commonly known as cicims.Cicim or Jijim or Jajim: kilims woven in narrow strips that are sewn together.