Treasures of Anatolian Kilims and Other Tribal Rugs
By Stacie Leone
You can’t take home the beautiful tiles of the Blue
Mosque; the dazzling frescoes of the Hagia Sophia are not
for sale, neither are the opulent treasures of Topkapi Palace.
But you can bring home with you a special and truly unique
Turkish memento to treasure for a lifetime: a hand woven kilim
What is a kilim rug?
The word Kilim (kill-im), is of Turkish origin and denotes
a pile-less textile produced using a flat-weaving technique.
What distinguishes kilims from “oriental” or “Persian”
rugs is that they are tightly woven, flat rugs, while those
in the "oriental” rug category are usually pile
rugs and carpets, which are produced using a knotting technique.
Another distinguishing characteristic of a true kilim rug
is that its design is almost always improvised; the weaver
has the freedom to develop and apply her own design, color
harmony and materials. Oriental rug design, on the other hand,
follows fixed, symmetrical patterns, and the weaver has no
flexibility to add anything personal to the piece.
Long before kilims became decorative items in modern homes,
they were used by tribal communities who created them for
practical purposes such as floor coverings, hangings to protect
from inclement weather or for storage of grains and other
daily essentials. Lightweight and easy to transport, the kilim
was an ideal and essential part of the lives of nomadic peoples.
But, kilims have also long functioned as much more than practical
household items. In fact, each one tells a story, usually
through symbolic images which differ from region to region.
Kilim weavers, often illiterate in our sense of the word,
are wonderfully erudite in the language of kilim rugs. Girls
weaving kilim rugs for their dowry chests use this language
to express their hopes for children, good fortune or a strong
and handsome husband, while a married woman may show her irritation
with a prickly mother-in-law or longing for an absent mate.
Today’s kilims still incorporate many of these old symbols
and are hand woven in the traditional styles of ancient nomadic
lore of kilim motifs, designs, colors and their symbolism
is as rich and complex as the combined heritage of cultures
that gave them birth,” says Mr. Can Gurel, the founder
an online kilim area rug retail store and information resource
based in Istanbul, Turkey. After graduating from Harvard University,
Gurel started collecting kilim rugs and has since turned his
hobby into a burgeoning venture with repeat customers from
all over the world. You can visit Kilim.com
to learn about the origins of kilim rugs, the stories behind
their intricate motifs and fascinating designs, as well as
find practical information such as how to buy a kilim and
how to care for it in your home. Another invaluable resource
for learning all about kilims is a book called “Kilim:
The Complete Guide – History, Pattern, Technique, Identification”,
by Alistair Hull and Jose Luczyc-Wyhowska, published by Thames
& Hudson and available at most major booksellers.
“Some researchers believe that kilim weaving originated
in Anatolia. Regardless of its origins, Anatolian kilim rugs
are the most varied in their designs, patterns and motifs
because there has been so much immigration to the country
over the centuries from Central Asia, Caucasus, Iran and the
Balkans. So, shopping for a kilim is actually more like a
great game of exploration and a perfect way to begin uncovering
the rich cultural history of Anatolia and other kilim producing
regions,” says Gurel.
How to buy a kilim rug
Once you have done a little homework on the subject, experience
the magic of the kilim for yourself by browsing the countless
retailers in the Grand Bazaar and in the Sultanahmet area
of Istanbul. You are likely to find that you learn something
new in each store, which is what makes “kilim hunting”
so much fun. Try to find stores that specialize in kilim rugs
rather than carry them as a small part of their rug collection.
Of course, the best way to select a shop is through a referral
from someone who has shopped there before and is satisfied
with the quality of their kilims and the service they received.
Another great way to learn about kilims is to visit the Museum
of Turkish and Islamic Arts in Istanbul, which has a wide
collection of kilims from different time periods and regions
What to pay for a kilim rug
can expect to pay anywhere from €40-250 per square meter
for a new kilim rug. The low end of this spectrum includes
kilims with synthetic dyed, coarse wool and weaving, while
the high end comprises vegetable dyed kilims made from handspun
wools with fine weaving.
High-quality synthetic dyes can look as good as natural dyes
when used skillfully, but some prefer the authenticity and
the color harmony of natural dyes. Of course, because these
types of kilims take much longer to produce, they are more
rare and therefore cost from two to four times more than a
synthetic dyed kilim not made from handspun wool.
Old kilims are priced according to their condition, rarity,
colors, dyes, size and origin, so the price range is very
wide. Antique or collector pieces are in a category of their
own and can fetch upwards of €50,000 but high-end pieces
are usually only sold at auction houses. For those on a budget,
there are plenty of “non-rug kilims” and other
area rugs and tribal rugs on offer which make beautiful home
or fashion accessories, including pillow cases, wall hangings,
purses and luggage made from kilim remnants. These range in
price from €10 for a small pillow case up to a few hundred
euros for a leather trim carry-on suitcase made from pieces
of old kilims.
How to bargain
setting your heart on the kilim that will grace the walls
of your flat back home, be sure to visit several shops. Once
you’ve found a shop you like, don’t march in and
ask “how much?” Take your time, admire the goods.
Pick a few kilims you like and have the dealer put them aside
for you as you browse. Know the maximum you are willing to
pay, but be sure to keep that figure to yourself. There are
plenty of friendly people in the business who are open to
bargaining and want to see you return home with something
special from Turkey that you will cherish for years to come.
Do not worry if you cannot make up your mind when you are
in Turkey, because you can always browse kilims in the comfort
of your home over the Internet and have it delivered to your
Five tips for buying kilims and other tribal
1- Do your homework: check out www.kilim.com
which contains valuable information about the history, origins
and designs of new and antique kilim rugs. Or find a good
book on the subject.
2- Take your time shopping around
3- Ask plenty of questions
4- Be a firm but friendly bargainer