Ultimate Guide to Kilim Rugs

Ultimate Guide to Kilim Rugs


Kilim is one of the oldest known types of rug weaving. It is a type of weaving known since ancient times, made and used by nomads living on livestock in Central Asia, Iran, Anatolia, and the Caucasus.

Kilim weaving is a pile-free weaving method made based on two thread systems, without reverse and flat. Instead, weavers generally make rugs on looms called Istar. These looms are placed vertically and twisted on the hoop formed by vertical and horizontal yarn wefts called “arş” and “argac".

Kilim was the central weaving used by nomadic tribes. What makes Kilim distinct from a carpet is that a Kilim's pattern and surface do not consist of single stitches thrown over the warps. Instead, Kilim is woven with weft balls or shuttles that go back and forth between the warps. As a result, the rug is thin and flat. The backside and the frontside of the rug look the same. 

Kilim rug patterns are mostly geometric. This is because of the specific weaving techniques used in Kilim making. The inspiration for these geometric patterns come from nature. Weavers interpret shapes and images that exist around them into motifs for their craft. This process which is also a means of self expression for the weaver, is also called "styling."

Although the history of flat-woven rugs is older than knotted carpets, unfortunately few examples have managed to survive throughout history. The oldest Kilim that has survived to the present day is from 18th dynasty of Ancient Egypt and was found in the tomb of Tuthmosis. The first Kilims woven in Anatolia (known as "queen's cover"), were found during the Troy excavations and date back to 2300 B.C. Some similar rugs were also found in Gordio excavations and it is estimated that they belong to the Phrygians (7th century B.C.). Additionally, some flat-woven rugs (along with the famous Hun carpet) dating back to the 5th-4th B.C. were found in Pazyryk, Southern Siberia. In Peru, this type of weaving dates back to the 8th B.C., and has been widely known since ancient times.

The Etymology

The direct English translatio of the word "Kilim" would be "flat-weave." However, the origin of the word "Kilim" is actually controversial. It is now generally accepted that the original is Persian. The word was translated from Persian to Urdu and Turkish, from Turkish to Mongolian, Russian, Arabic, Caucasian and Balkan languages. All rugs other than knotted carpets are called "Kilim".

The Kilim in Anatolia

It is thought that nomadic Turks in Central Asia used the same flat weaving technique. To protect themselves from the moisture coming from under their tents, they produced floor coverings from goat's wool, which they called "rugs." When the Turks came to Anatolia, they brought their weaving culture (based on the weaving tradition of Central Asia) along with them. As a result, many cities such as Konya, Kayseri, Sivas, and Aksaray gained fame with their carpets.

While some of the Turkoman tribes who came to Anatolia weaved the traditional Turkoman patterns on their rugs, others created patterns that were later even further developed with additional motifs and compositions.

The combination of using different types of wool (specialty of each region) and the individual weaver's craftsmanship helped produce a great variety of Kilim rugs through generations. Finally, towards the end of the 14th century, Anatolian rugs began to enter European houses, churches, and castles. Today in the Washington Museum of Weaving, a blanket woven in the “scarf soumak technique," which dates back to the 16th century, is the oldest example of Turkish flat-woven mats.

The Cultural Point of View

From a cultural point of view, Kilim is a product that is believed to be a work of art. It is a bridge from the past to the present. Hence, it is representative of cultural identity. For instance, when we look at some materials in nomadic tribes' lives from birth to death, the tent carries the colors and symbolic forms, according to the place where it is used. It has plastic values ​​with its feature of being a wall painting mosaic. 

The shaman belief represents religion because it has spread over the tribes to protect from nature. In short, in nomadic culture, where people are always on the road, “kilim” is an ancestral heirloom that preserves all sociological, psychological, anthropological information about those people. Due to these features, the originality of design and colors enhances its importance and cultural function. Unfortunately, interest in flat-weavings has decreased today.

The Main Difference Between Kilims and Rugs

Kilim is similar to vintage rugs in terms of material and dye. For this reason, it is also called a thin carpet type. However, the most crucial difference between a kilim and a carpet is that the motif evident on the face of the rug creates a flat base as a result of weaving various wefts and warps together. In carpet production, yarns of different colors, generally wool, are knitted on the warps and held together by pressing the wefts tightly together. 

Since Kilim is produced much shorter and cheaper than carpet, these flat-weavings are made more in Tunceli and its region. Flat-weaving, which is a mandatory hand-woven process, madder is also used.

Ahmed Vefik Pasha used the term "thin and a carpet that does not have lint" when describing the Kilim. It is known that Turks call kilims, the flat-weavings, as ketuz/kiviz/kidiz. These names are still used in some regions in Anatolia today. 

The oldest piece woven with the kilim technique that has survived to the present day is the XVIII. It belongs to the dynastic period and belongs to the IV. It was excavated from the tomb of Tuthmosis (1425-1408 BC). Hence, it is thought that the Kilim has a history of more than 4000 years.

Since rugs are made with ancient techniques, they are not very common in many houses today. Hence, carpets are used more than kilims nowadays. In addition, kilims are larger and wider than rugs. 

Looking at the technique used while producing both carpet and kilims, we can see that kilims are not woven. They are made mainly by knitting the yarns by intertwining and passing them through each other. On the other hand, it is looped with the double knot method and cut with scissors through carpet production. This technique is used for each knot. Generally, 1 million knots can be tied for a 1 square meter silk carpet.

Furthermore, it usually takes one month to make kilims, while weaving a wool carpet can take 4-5 months. On top of it, the silk carpet may last at least one year. Therefore, carpets are more expensive, and rugs are cheaper. The patterns of the kilims are generally more symmetrical, but this symmetry is not looked for in the carpets. But overall, we could say that Kilim is a thin type of carpet.

Materials Used in Kilim Production

Kilims in Tunceli and its region are woven on wooden looms as in the other areas of Anatolia. Since incorporating them takes more than a few days, attention is paid to allocating a special place. This place needs to be well lit both for ventilation and for the motifs to be processed meticulously. First, the loom sitting on a smooth surface is set up. After this, the skeleton of the flat-weave is passed to the warp. 

These kilims differ according to their single and double wing features. The width of some of them varies between 50 and 60 cm. However, a single-wing kilim with a width of 90-120 cm can also be woven. 

The lengths of the kilims vary between 1 and 2 m according to their wings. It is also seen that the double-winged kilims made in Tunceli and its region sometimes reach 5 meters. Today, these kilims, known as ancestral heirlooms in Tunceli and its area, are being carried out to encourage hand weaving, although it has gradually decreased. Although rugs with different patterns and methods have been encountered, especially in the mountain villages of Tunceli, a comprehensive inventory study has not been carried out yet.

In Kilim production, the Warp (Arış) thread is usually double twisted from wool mohair bristle or cotton thread. Colored threads called Weft (Argaç) thread are threaded between the warp. Fine twisted and sheep wool is used in weft yarns. The kilims are called floor mats, prayer rugs, food bags, pillows, and cushions.

All flat-woven mats and even knotted carpets can be woven on the same type of loom. Moreover, more than one of these weavings can be woven together at the same time on a single warp system strung on a loom.

Types of Kilims

Looped Kilim

Wefts of different colors, placed between the warps from one top and one bottom to cover them, return from their own motifs' borders. Suppose a vertical line is formed there while returning another row from the same place on the neighboring motif's scarf of a different color on the border of that motif. In that case, a vertical buttonhole is formed between the two patterns. Because the side-by-side warp pairs are pulled back by being wrapped by two separate wefts at the border of the two patterns, for this reason, vertical lines are avoided as much as possible in weft-faced fabrics. However, the formation of small buttonholes not exceeding 1 cm in steps at the borders of these vertical patterns is ensured. Thus, it prevents the formation of all-around tears.

When long vertical lines are woven, very long buttonholes such as tears will occur. Hence, this process gives the mat a torn appearance. In addition, a non-practical and unstable mattress will emerge. For this reason, the patterns are more angular and mainly composed of transverse diagonal and dashed lines, while long vertical lines are divided into steps.

Buttonholes Kilims (Non-Vertical Lined Kilims) 

In this type of kilims, vertical lines are avoided to avoid buttonholes, and patterns consisting mostly of diagonal and transverse lines are woven. However, when it is essential, buttonholes can be seen in a few places.

Curved Weft Kilim Texture

Normally, wefts are passed between vertical warps in a transverse straight line. While the wefts are pressed with a kilt, they are pressed firmly in some places and slightly in other places. Thus, it is ensured that the wefts are passed through the warps in a curvature suitable for the design. Curved and rounded lines may occur because the wefts are tight in some places and loose in others. Thus, it is possible to weave a flower, a branch with a curved line, or a leaf without geometric precision, only if there is an exact weaving pattern. This technique was used in Ottoman tent rugs.

Additional Weft Compression Between Normal 

A small group of wefts is placed on the wefts that have been regularly thrown and compressed with kirkit. Later, a few rows of original scarves are thrown on it regularly.

Elimination of Buttonholes by Returning Wefts from the Same Warp 

Pattern threads from different pattern areas return on the same single warp they encounter. Thus, it is ensured that the warps, which are separated in pairs at the vertical pattern boundaries during weaving, are connected. Sometimes the buttonhole is destroyed by turning the wefts one by one, and sometimes it is destroyed by turning back in twos.

Wrap Contour 

The spaces between the wefts and the buttonholes are wrapped with the same colored frame yarn, one by one. Then, vertically diagonally and transversely up to the warps in the middle, they are wrapped and frame lines embroidered with needles. In this way, the wraps are formed on the face of the weaving. A pattern yarn of a different color is entangled in a double warp left in between after each weft row is recycled. This yarn is kept in the gap until the second row is filled. Then, it continues throughout the pattern by wrapping it in a double warp again. This technique is found in rugs woven in almost every region of our country.

Curved Weft Contour

Large gaps are left between the patterns, and the space between them is passed between the warps parallel to the edge of the design and filled with a contour yarn of a different color. Thus, the gaps between the wefts and the Kilim weaving are filled in vertical, diagonally curved strips between the wefts that are normally thrown transversely.


It is a type of weaving in which colored pattern yarns are used separately from the warp and weft system in rugs and plain weaves. Since it has an appearance resembling wrapping in thin lines on straight Weft woven or weft-faced woven floors, it is mainly known among the people as a type of mat that is embroidered with needles on flat-ground weaving. Cicim weavings mostly use diagonal and vertical lines. Transverse lines are avoided as they cannot achieve the same filled look as transverse lines. Instead, transverse lines are formed by wrapping them in the form of sumac. To control the pattern threads coming from the back of the loom and passing in front of it, an assistant can be found behind the loom. The assistant gives the pattern threads from the back to the front by spacing the warps in certain places according to the pattern. The weaver is located on the opposite side of the common, that is, on the front of the loom. Usually, the same color and thickness weft is thrown between the warps. After being compressed with the kilt, a long-colored pattern yarn, which is handled according to the state of the pattern, is passed from the back of the weaving in front of it, and after skipping a double warp, it is released by interlacing it again. The exact process is repeated for the other motif. Jumps are made for motifs of different colors across the entire width of the spread, and after the threads are placed on the back, a row of wefts is thrown and compressed. Again, depending on the situation of the motifs, the threads hanging from the back are passed. Then, they are left after skipping a double warp. Thus, weaving continues. In this case, the pattern threads are wrapped around the warp pairs as in sumac weaving. This wrapping process is completed after the Weft is inserted in the second row.

Sparse Patterned Cicim

The wefts and warps that make up the ground are primarily threads of the same thickness and color, and the threads that make up the pattern are thicker than these. This gives the designs an embossed appearance. Small motifs, mostly in diagonal and vertical lines, occur when the pattern yarn wraps a double warp in a process completed in the second row. The patterns are in fine lines due to the weaving technique. Sometimes, the inside of the motifs can be filled with one of the sumac or zili techniques.

Scarf Faced Sparse Patterned Cicim

It is a weaving formed by weaving motifs between a weft-faced ground, which is left loose to hide the warps of the wefts. This type of weaving is used to obtain thicker mats.

Frequent Pattern Cicim

The cicim is wrapped between three single warps and woven between the bare floor for uses that need to be durable, such as thick floor mats, saddlebags, sacks, and bags. Although the motifs are woven very close to each other to obtain durable weaving, these weavings are often mixed with zili weavings. These techniques weave mattresses such as pillows, cushions, and saddlebags. However, this is not common.


At first, glance, although it looks like a dense motif cicim, it is an entirely different type of weaving from cicim weavings. This is a type of float weave mainly used for tents, cushions, sacks, and mats. A wide variety of patterns cannot be woven, as the weaving technique is not convenient. Hence, it might seem that it has a rough appearance, as it covers the entire surface of the material. The covering has a distinctive effect and runs parallel to the warps. The extra wefts are wrapped around the warps. Turkmen rose is one of the most used patterns. In its historical development, it has survived until today without any deterioration.

Flat Zili

While the inside of the patterns is filled with 2-1, 3-1, 5-1 skips, a vertical striped roving appearance occurs on the face of the common with single warps and skips. This type of weaving can also be mixed with some cicim, sumac, and other zili techniques.

Cross Zili 

Leaving one warp first in each row, the pattern threads that are brought forward are skipped by sliding one warp to the side in the upper row. Thus, the maximum warps and the upper pattern threads from diagonal lines. According to the pattern, it can be woven diagonally, diagonally, diagonally across the floor to form large 'V's, or woven diagonally inward in four directions to create a rhombus in the middle.

Sparse Zili

Plain cloth weaving consists of small motifs in the technique of plain zili weaving, intermittent, unconnected, interspersed with 3-1, 5-1 skips.

Contoured Zili (Zili-Verne) 

It is a zili type in which contoured patterns are created with double and triple jumps. It consists of designs consisting of weft-faced or cloth-woven broad floors, with contours like cicim. In order to create patterns in the form of shapes, after the regular wefts are thrown in each row, the colored pattern yarn passed from the back to the front, after 2-3 warps to the show, turns back from one upper row, is passed to the front again, and 2-3 warps are skipped backward. Meanwhile, the pattern thread passing through the top row is held. On the turn, it is returned vertically from the top row again. With this technique, only vertical and diagonal lines can be woven. The transverse lines are wrapped with the sumac technique. Patterns surrounded by contours are filled with checkered sumac bells or long jumps.

Checkered Zili 

Like all checkers, all motifs are filled with 2-1, 3-1 jumps. It is mainly used in combination with other techniques. Sometimes the checkers are formed by the intersection of the diagonal lines fill the motif backgrounds. Sometimes, checkered floors are woven in this technique to fill the motifs created with the Contoured zili, Zili-Verne technique.


It is woven with colored pattern threads, apart from warps and wefts, as in cicim and zili. It is woven by winding pattern yarns of different colors into warp pairs continuously. After the colored pattern threads fill the inside of the motifs, they are jumped onto a pattern of another color from the back, or they pass to the top row. Weaving is mainly done on the reverse of the common. Since it is a relatively time-consuming technique, usually, instead of this, thin plain-weave ground wefts are used. For this reason, this technique is often used for more minor works such as bags, prayer sheets, and mats.

Plain Soumak Weave

This one is formed by wrapping the pattern yarns in the warps in the same direction. Pattern threads are woven in the same way from top to bottom or from bottom to top in the same way. Also, the Weft is thrown in between.

Plain Soumak Weave Without the Weft

Without Weft It is a plain soumak weaving that is woven without weft insertion. The faces of the sacks are mostly woven with this technique. It only occurs when the pattern yarns are wrapped in pairs on the warps. As the Weft is not thrown away, some pattern threads jump along with the motif from the back and pass to the beginning of the motif, so a bulge occurs on the face of the weaving.

Herringbone Soumak Weave 

It is a herringbone sumac weaving, which is formed by wrapping the pattern yarns in warps in opposite directions in each row.

Herringbone Soumak Weave Without the Weft

If the first row is woven from top to bottom by wrapping the pattern yarn around the warps, a herringbone appearance is obtained by wrapping the reverse pattern yarns on the warps in the second row. But the Weft is not thrown in between.

Reverse Soumak Weave 

It is the soumak weaving in which shorter bulges occur on the face of the weaving by wrapping it outward from the work, unlike the plain weaving.

Cross – Alternative Soumak Weave 

It is the warp form of reverse sumac weaving, woven by slipping one warp pair in each row. In the first row, the warp pairs are wrapped in the same way by lowering one warp in the second row, after the warp pairs come from the back and are covered in reverse to the front. Sometimes 2-3 pairs of warps are wound together. This soumak weaving style also has shapes that are woven with and without Weft. This technique is applied in the weaving of mats, sacks, and saddlebags.

The Characteristic of the Main Motifs Used in Kilim

The motifs embroidered on the flat-weavings differ according to the characteristics of the day and the culture, traditions, and customs of the region, according to the expectations and hopes of the person who weaves the rug. Singing various folk songs while weaving them is also related to their feelings, thoughts, and expectations. The "yellow kilim knit" folk song compiled by Muzaffer Sarısözen from the Çemişgezek region is an example of this situation.

"We should knit a yellow kilim; where should we see Yari 

The one who says he saw Yari should be kissed from his eyes 

Yellow rug fringe I drew the knife from the sheath, 

And he couldn't hit the valiant coward."

As it was indicated earlier, kilim patterns are symmetrical. Thus, they usually consist of geometric motifs due to the weaving technique. Patterning the kilim surface is possible in three ways. 

  1. Pre-woven rugs are used as models.
  2. The weaver designs and colors as he or she wants. 
  3. Drawn patterns are used.

The weavers use the motifs and patterns to represent and transmit their traditions, customs, values, and beliefs from generation to generation within the social structure and establish communication between the past and the future. 

It is possible to classify carpet and kilim motifs in various ways. 

  • Animal motifs: Bird, dragon, insect. 
  • Floral motifs: tree, leaf, flower, fruit. 
  • Geometric motifs: Triangle, quadrilateral, rectangle, rhombus, quadrangle 
  • Mixed motifs: Medallion, rosette, hook, column, inscription, letter, cloud, Chintamani, vase. 
  • Symbolic motifs: Through the symbolic motifs, the weaver symbolizes the forces of nature with thoughts and ideas. Bird, tree of life, hand cross, comb, ibrik (a pitcher), and oil lamp motifs can be given as examples.

Some of the representations of kilim motifs and their meanings, which we know by examining the old carpets in our country, are written in order below. 

  • Nutmeg and Amulet Motif 

Nutmeg is believed to reduce the effect of evil eyes. In addition, the amulet protects its owner from harmful events.

  • Eagle motif 

It represents power and might.

  • Earring motif 

With this motif, a young girl who wants to get married indirectly reveals her desire for her family. 

  • Eye motif 

It is believed to protect against evil eyes and harm. 

  • Abundance motif

The hand on the waist and the belaying cleat are used together to represent man and woman. The eye in the middle of the motif protects the family from evil. 

  • Trammel motif 

It indicates family unity and the hope of being together. 

  • Hand, Finger, Comb Motif 

Fingers protect the person from evil eyes. The hand motif symbolizes fertility, and the comb symbolizes birth.

  •  Pıtrak motif 

It usually means abundant flowers, which represents abundance in general. 

  • Storage Chest motif 

It symbolizes the dowry chest of young girls. 

  • Hook and Plus Motif 

Pluses (+) and hooks are frequently used in Turkish weaving to protect people from danger. 

  • Dragon motif 

The dragon is the lord of air and water. It is believed to bring bountiful spring rains. 

  • Bird motif 

Owl and crow evils, nightingale and pigeon; good luck symbols. 

  • Hand on her waist motif 

It is a symbol of motherhood, femininity, and fertility. 

  • Hair tie motif 

This one expresses the desire to marry. The hair involved in weaving represents immortality.

  • Belaying Cleat motif 

The belaying cleat symbolizes productivity, strength, and masculinity. Also, it means that the person who weaves is very happy. 

  • Waterline motif 

Water and its path emphasize the importance of water in human life. 

  • The Scorpion motif 

It is woven to protect from the evil of the Scorpion. 

  • The star motif 

This one represents productivity. 

  • The tree of life motif 

This motif is the symbol of eternity.

Common Characteristics of Colors Used in Kilim Production

Looking at the old kilims from time to time, we might think, "How did these colors or these shapes come together?". In fact, every color and sign has a story and meaning. One of the weavers in Eskisehir, Gulsen Yoldas, reflect her feelings on kilims. She has been weaving rugs and kilims since her childhood and stated that each symbol on these kilims is a code. Here is the meaning of the colors and symbols on the rugs. Noting that the colors describe the feelings of the women of that period. She said that mainly pink is the symbol of spring and love, while red is the symbol of grief, pain. However, in some regions, instead of grief, red may symbolize something else. In addition, white symbolizes birth. As when you are born, you are covered with swaddles, and when you die, you are wrapped in a shroud, which both are white. Green is the ultimate point as it is the color of meeting God in Sufism, but it is also a symbol of happiness in the family.

In dyeing, traditional dyeing recipes that weavers learn and repeat by passing from generation to generation are used. Since the dyestuff pigments cannot adhere to the goat hair, the hair yarns are used in their natural state. The common colors used in Anatolian Kilims are generally natural white, black, yellow, red, blue, orange, brown, and green various light-dark color values.

The root dyes which are obtained from natural products are used as the colors of kilims, even after chemical dyes entered our country. Apart from root dye, some plants or fruits are also used. For example, from subsoil shoots of the plants, roots-dyes are obtained. Hence, brown and red colors are acquired. In order to get more yellowish and brown tones, the fruits of the Buckthorn plant are used. In addition to this, the insect chermes abiertis’s blood is used to obtain red, as well as the roots of the Madder plant are used to obtain madder red. Furthermore, all parts of the plant of Juglans regia, which is the plant of walnuts, are used to get Khaki and all shades of green. Moreover, to acquire dark brown or orange, the outer skins of the Allium cepa, which is the scientific name of onion, are used. The blue color is produced from the plant, which grows mainly in the Western regions of Anatolia. Its name is Woad Blue, and it is the oldest and most crucial blue dye. The yellow tones are made from pomegranate skins, vine leaves, saffron, or Ox-eye chamomile flowers. 

The colors are so crucial in Kilims their secret has passed from generation to generation for centuries. As the information about its colors passed between ages, it's also interesting that the shades and colors do give a hint about the region that it has been made. The rug specialists can easily understand and pinpoint the village it is from just by looking at its colors!

Artistic Value of Kilim Production 

We have to state that Kilim’s have stunning combinations of colors. Together with the motifs, they create an incredible array which does much to lift the room and add a joyful dose of color. There's a Kilim for every color scheme out there, which you can definitely have room for. Kilims can really add a new soul to the room, adding texture and warmth, especially to bare spaces. However, there is more than that! They actually do have an artistic value, which many people do not recognize as they step on it.

If we go back in time for a little bit, we can see that wherever and whenever people live, they have engaged in artistic pursuits and efforts while continuing their daily activities. Creative endeavors have been more complex or difficult to understand as opposed to naturalistic endeavors. The concept of art in its most general sense; is the visualization of beauty or the search for beauty in works that people create by thinking, as some indication that the primary purpose of art is to direct people towards clarity and beauty. 

Since there are natural and sincere orientations, social and cultural influences in the concept of art, the criteria, and tastes that determine the exquisite quality of art; were created differently around the world. 

Hence, the types, shapes, designs, motifs, and colors used in kilims are different. To know the symbolic meanings of motif and pattern compositions for the society in Anatolian kilims, it is essential to understand its aesthetic values, cultural integrity, and semantic depth. Frequent-rare motifs used in kilims and their symbolic meanings together create a silent communication language among the society. In addition, symmetry element is widespread in the arrangement of motif and pattern compositions of Anatolian Kilims. However, the weaver's placement of filling motifs in different places increases the artistic value of Anatolian kilims.

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