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Boho Sheik: Tradition, technique + serendipity in kilim rugs

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The kilim is a unique form of rug weaving that has captured the hearts of many rug lovers around the world. They are sought after by collectors of rugs with great stories, and coveted by designers and DIYers looking for the perfect display of artisanship and spirit. Kilims have forged a deep connection between the people who make and the people who buy these rugs — and the reasons for this can be found in the craft and history of these singular rugs. 

What is a kilim?

When we're talking about kilims, we are talking about flatweaves. This is a kind of handmade rug that does not have individual knots, but instead has a tight basket-weave style structure that gives the front and the back of the rug an identical appearance. The names — kilim, dhurry, soumak — are typically a reflection of where they were made and some of the regional nuances that appear in them. But generally speaking, they're very similar to one another. 

 

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A Matter of Practicality: Speed and Size

Speed

The weaving process to produce a kilim is much faster than that of a hand-knotted rug, which is a critical factor for the weavers. This means you can use it soon after starting to make it or take it to market to sell or trade in only a few weeks, as opposed to a few months with a hand-knotted rug. Especially for weavers who make flatweaves as a hobby separate from their regular employment, it’s much more satisfying to see the fruits of your labor in the same season that you started. 

Size

Many hand-knotted rugs are woven on giant looms in ateliers. Looms that tend to run the width of contemporary sizes, such as 10 feet wide for rugs that are knotted as 8x10’s or 9x12s, are wide, tall bulky, and at times advanced pieces of equipment.

Many flat weaves are woven in the homes of the craftsmen and women, where this amount of space is not available (For a moment, try to imagine a 10-foot-wide loom sitting next to your dining table). As a result, smaller wooden looms are used to create flatweaves, which in turn, tend to produce smaller, narrower rugs. While a weaver can keep adding length to a kilim as much as her material will allow, she can’t add width; as a result it’s typical to see a size such as 5’ x 14’, and less likely to find a 10’ x 14’ kilim.

But being practical, weavers found a solution: sew two smaller rugs together. To make some of the large sizes typical of hand-knotted rugs, kilim weavers will stitch two rugs together with a thick center seam. We have several examples of these on our site, which we lovingly refer to as Double-Wide. 

 

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Flatweaves as Venerable Folk Art

The Weaver's POV

Historically, flatweaves have been produced by villagers and nomads, while hand-knotted rugs have been produced in ateliers. This introduces a more personal aspect into kilims; they are much more likely to reflect the personal story, perspective and style of an individual weaver than a hand-knotted rug. Weavers tend to infuse their designs with simple, geometric motifs of villages and their surroundings, often using patterns and icons that have been shared between regions, generations and friends. Sometimes the motifs have a direct correlation to the type of flatweave, and the influences that the methods have on designs. For example, modern flatweaves, like kilims woven in Turkey or dhurries woven in India, may have modern interpretations of older designs or entirely new looks that are contemporary in nature, but they still carry the same textures and simpler energy that they have for millennia.

The Quirks are the Charm

Because most kilim weavers work from home in craft/hobby style methods, things are not always perfect. The ready-dyed wools that a weaver picks up might end up not being enough to complete the piece! You may notice in our vintage kilims there are sections where the color of a floral motif or even an entire background region suddenly changes —this is usually due to the weaver running out of wool and having to head back out to market to get some new wool in as close of a color as possible. Sometimes yarn even remotely resembling the same color is not available, which can lead to entire sections of kilims having a different tone. We never consider these types of elements to be a negative, but rather a sign of the unique nature and story of an individual kilim. Every quirk tells a story about the time a weaver has spent with the rug or kilim.

Aging Adds Depth & Maturity

I'll spare you the aging wine analogy, but tell you that kilims last for a long time — decades, sometimes centuries. Over time, they are bound to encounter wear; these vintage pieces are revered for their signs of life. A sun-baked color or replaced section are not taken as flaws but as the evidence of a fruitful life. You may encounter some rugs on our site that have matured; we make efforts to call these to your attention, but keep in mind, these are some of the traits that make these rugs so sought after. 

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Mehmet Bozatli
Mehmet Bozatli

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