Category Archives: Kilim Rugs

Weaving Techniques

The reason that rugs are a subject of such fascination and admiration for so many is that within their threads they carry the weight of history. The designs (which may have religious, talismanic or totemic meanings) tell the stories of their weavers, and of traditions passed down from one generation to the next. Creating these designs, while retaining structural integrity, requires great skill and knowledge of different weaving techniques that can be employed for different effects, many different examples of which may be seen in a single rug.

In our article, What Is A Kilim, we established that a kilim is defined as a flatweave rug (as distinct to a carpet or pile rug), in which warp yarns (those fixed to the loom) are interwoven with weft yarns usually with the slitweave technique. One of the main differences between kilim weaving and plain weave is that while in a plain weave the warp and weft are evenly spaced (meaning they are both seen), with tapestry weave used in kilims, the warps are more widely spread, and the wefts are packed densely to completely cover the warp threads. This imbalance creates weft-facing weaves that carry the entire pattern.

Another solution was to create the discontinuous weft, which allowed weavers to work (by hand) on one color block at a time. The quandary of what to do with the weft led to them returning it back on itself, resulted in the slitweavetechnique that is employed in the majority of kilims. This and other main rug weaving techniques are explained below.

Hand/Knotted Pile Rug

Before we being to look at the flatweave weaving techniques however, it is important to clarify what makes it unique by understanding the common pile rug or knotted weaving technique. In these plush rugs, knots are made on the warps, and then cut before moving onto the next (forming the pile effect, which also carries the pattern of the rug). After each row of knotting, wefts are then inserted and packed to the desired stiffness. There are two main different types of knots used. The symmetrical Turkish/Gordes/Double knot involves looping the yarn around two warps and then pulling it tight between them, which naturally creates a more durable rug. The a symmetrical Persian/Sehna/Single Knot is preferable for designs with higher “resolution” and involves wrapping one end of the yarn around a single warp, and then taking the other end loosely beside the adjacent warp, before cutting both ends.

Slit Tapestry/Slitweave

This is the most common weaving technique used to create geometric and diagonal patterned kilims. The slit refers to the gap left between two blocks of color. It is created by returning the weft around the last warp in a color area, and the weft of the adjacent color is later returned around the adjacent warp. Weavers pack the weft tightly to completely cover the warp and often favor diagonal patterns so as to avoid weakening the structure of the rug with vertical slits. They work on one color block before moving onto the next. It produces bold, sharp patterns that weavers enjoy creating with more freedom allowed than a plainweave. It also results in a smooth kilim that is reversible with the same pattern on both sides in most cases.

Dove-tailing and Double Interlocking

A number of techniques evolved to deal with the problem of the slit that was formed using the above technique. These techniques developed in the Near and Middle East, but were not used so commonly in Anatolia. Dove-tailing (also known as shared warp or single interlock weave) refers to the wefts from two different color blocks, returning (in opposite directions) around the same warp that forms the boundary between them. With the double interlocking technique, wefts from adjacent color fields interlock with each other between the warp threads that run between them. With both of these techniques, the striking contrast of the colors that are created using a slitweave is lost, resulting in more blurred designs. Nevertheless, they are main techniques to be used for strong joins between vertical color blocks.


This is the common name for weft wrapping technique used to create complex and varied designs. Colored yarns are wrapped around the warps following mathematical patterns that allow the weavers to create free flowing intricate designs that form reliefs on the surface of the work. Because it is a time consuming technique, it is commonly alternated with thin plain-weave ground wefts and often used for smaller works such as bags, prayer sheets and mats.



These difficult techniques were favored by Yörük, Turkmen, and Kurdish tribal weavers in Anatolia. They are forms of supplementary weft or extra-weft weaving that allows weavers to add patterns onto the standard weft which holds the warp thread together. They give the appearance of an embroidered addition, and usually result in a raised pattern. As the nomad way of life disappears, so too does the knowledge of how to create these weaves.


With the jijim weaving technique, different colored threads are applied between the weft and warp threads, on the reverse of the weave. It is often used to decorate a plainweave object, or to create small ornamental motifs, that may be scattered or in series. The groundweave underneath shows through, giving the impression of an embroidered motif, and it is often used to fill areas of negative space. Bristle wefts are often used to create a textured effect on bags, mats and quilts.


This is another supplementary-weft weaving technique used exclusively in Anatolia, and is a type of float weave commonly used for tents, cushions, sacks, and mats. It has a rough appearance, covering the entire surface of the material with a distinctive effect that resembles cording and runs parallel to the warps. The extra wefts are wrapped around the warps, usually in a ratio of 2:1, 3:1, or 5:1. After the line is complete, the extra wefts are applied and pulled tight.

Tulu and Filikli Tulu

Derived from the word ‘tüylü,’ which means ‘hairy’ in Turkish, this techniques produces long-piled soft mats that were used by the pastoralists in central Anatolia to provide comfort and warmth during the harsh winters. They are created using extra wefts, made from loose spun yard, that are interwoven into a plainweave kilim using a Turkish Knot (where the yarn encircles two warps and is pulled tight between them before being cut) and results in tufts of soft wool. A Filikli Tulu kilim is made using silky mohair yarn, taken from the hair of the Angora goats.


Dyes & Dyeing

The proverbial pot of gold waiting at the end of the rainbow may be just a fanciful delusion but it also gives apt expression to man’s primeval fascination with nature’s colors, and it is the colors woven into the design of a kilim rug that first attract the eye. It is also true that some colors, or color combinations, while appealing to some may be distasteful to others, and the vagaries of fashion, especially in the West, often dictate color preferences. Yet, despite these various proclivities, colorful kilim rugs have found favor in homes all over the world – and it is in the vats of the dyers that the allure begins to brew.

“For many millennia dyes were obtained only from natural sources, plants, animals and minerals…”

Indigo (Indigofera Tinctoria) is being used to produce blue color for weaving.

For many millennia dyes were obtained only from natural sources, plants, animals and minerals, and the art of dyeing achieved great heights elevating the dyer to high social status. Among early nomads he may also have been the shaman, the priest/magician entrusted with guarding all the secret rituals of the tribe, including dyeing. Ancient China and Pharaonic Egypt are both known to have produced textile dyes and during Phoenician and Roman eras purple dye from Tyre was the rage of the rich, soon to be reserved only for the Imperial family of the Byzantine Empire.

This rich heritage of both nomadic tribes and sedentary communities continued to bring color to the world until the formulation of synthetic dyes in the middle of the 19th century A.D. – and then the battle was joined. But before giving some account of the still ongoing fracas between the ‘naturalists” and the “synthesists” at least a brief look is called for at the natural dyes that have served humankind so long, and continue to do so in coloring many kilim rugs even today.

Madder root, indigo, St. John’s wort, onion, saffron, sumach, camomile, rhubarb, turmeric, sage, poppy, buckthorn, quince, almond, walnut, chestnut and henna are just a few of the long list of natural dye sources, with madder and indigo perhaps the most commonly used. But what makes dyeing with natural pigment sources approach the esoteric is the fact that in order to achieve a particular hue of color the elements of the “brew” must be just right or the resulting shade will be “off” from what was intended. This means that at least three fundamental variables – the quality and amount of the dyeing agent, the quality and temperature of the water and the time allotted to soaking – must be correctly proportioned in a particular application to the wool, a material with a set of variable properties of its own.

To this already complicated brew yet another ingredient is usually added, namely a fixative, a bonding agent known as “mordant”. It is applied to the wool before, often during, and occasionally after dyeing. Known as mordanting, this process has its ancient roots in China and India, reportedly passing to Europe via Persia and Turkey. Mordants include the metal compounds potassium aluminum sulphate (alum), copper sulphate, potassium dichromate (chrome), ferrous sulphate (copperas) and stannous chloride (tin); tannin and urine are also used.

“…the dyeing process evoked the practice of some kind of benign sorcery…”

With this multitude of various ingredients to call on, and the many variables involved, it is little wonder that the dyeing process evoked the practice of some kind of benign sorcery or that the accomplished dyer was held in very high regard. It is also true, however, that identical results could not be achieved and different hues of the same color sometimes did find their way into kilim rug whose wool was dyed by these ancestral methods.

The advent of synthetic dyes shattered this world of traditional ways and craftsmanship passed from generation to generation, replacing them with the scientific method and standardization. The chemical instability of the first synthetic (aniline) dyes brought them deserved disrepute, but in modern synthetics the original handicaps have been overcome and the colors they impart are uniform and stable. These new commercial dyes are also plentiful, relatively cheap and practical to apply, but some of their inherent characteristics have split the community of kilim aficionados into warring camps, “naturalists” vs. “synthesists”.

  Red color isderived from Madder (Rubia Tinctorum).

Heated discussions on this subject are endless, and professional publications abound with statements like: “The artistic superiority of natural dyes and handspun yarn is indisputable…” or “Synthetic dyes are simply an alternative palette.” Shedding light on the differences between natural and synthetic dyes Peter Davis (“The Tribal Eye: Antique Kilims of Anatolia”) comments:

“Under an electron microscope, a wool fiber dyed with natural dyes has more of a speckled rather than a solidly colored appearance. As a result of these microscopic differences, the human eye perceives the natural dyed yarn as soft and muted. Conversely, the eye perceives wool dyed by synthetics as harsher, more aggressive, more extroverted in character. Not only do natural and synthetic dyes take differently to wool, but there are also important differences in the way natural and synthetic dyes are perceived by the human eye and brain. A dye, whether synthetic or natural, absorbs certain wavelengths of light and reflects others. Natural dyes tend to reflect a greater mix of wavelengths than do synthetics, which are distilled and therefore more precise and pure. In other words, natural dyes rarely appear to be a single hue. Instead of true primary red, for instance, the greater likelihood is that a natural red will appear as reddish-yellow or reddish-blue. By contrast, the hues of synthetics are pure reds, blues and yellows. The broadness or narrowness of the range of wave-lengths reflected by dyes is an important factor in how readily different hues harmonize. If, for instance three strands of wool are each synthetically dyed red, blue and yellow and placed side-by-side, the effect of the combination will be disharmonious. Whereas if three strands dyed indigo blue, madder red, and milkweed yellow are similarly placed, the effect will be quite harmonious. It is precisely because natural dyes are impure, and therefore reflect a broad range of wave-lengths, that harmonious combinations are more possible. It is the overlapping of the hues that make for color harmony…” (Rug News)

It seems that the critical words in this analysis are “color harmony”, and since there is little doubt that it is the overall harmony of color and design that attract the eye, perhaps it can then be said that whatever creates harmony is the right choice. But things are not so clear and simple in the world of the kilim rug where esthetics and the concept of beauty play a major role.


Giant flower carpet in Belgium

The Brussels Flower Carpet opened on Aug. 14 at the Grand-Place in the center of Brussels, this year celebrating the 50th anniversary of Turkish immigration in Belgium.

This year, around 600,000 begonias make up an ephemeral tapestry inspired by the geometric patterns of Turkey’s famous kilim (carpets), according to Philippe Close, Deputy Burgomaster for Tourism of the City of Brussels, during an interview with Xinhua.

Giant flower carpet in Belgium inspired by famous Turkish kilims for immigration anniversary

The flower carpet is 75 meters long and 25 meters wide, with more than 1,800 square meters of begonias, Close said.

He added that visitors will have the opportunity to admire this astonishing display until Aug. 17, “to sense all its tones and all its nuances, whether from the Grand-Place itself or from above, from the balcony of the City Hall of Brussels.”

On July 16, 1964, Belgium and Turkey signed a bilateral convention which led to Turkish immigration in Belgium. Today, over 220,000 Turkish-born individuals are residing in Belgium and migration from Turkey continues.