Originally, the roots of the kellim rugs go back to the nomadic people of the Middle East. They served and still serve the nomads not necessarily as rugs, but rather as blankets, saddle blankets, seat mats or wall decorations.
It is believed that the first carpets in history, several hundred years before Christ, corresponded in many ways to today’s kellim carpets.
Since the original kellims are hand-woven, they also have a very important difference to knotted carpets. Knotting techniques have presumably only evolved from weaving techniques. Nowadays, kellims mostly originate from southern Iran or Afghanistan and India.
Kellims are so-called “flatweaves” and look almost identical from the top and bottom. They can thus be used on both sides, which is a great advantage over other types of carpets.
They also have very distinctive patterns and designs.
Thanks to the weaving technique with warp and weft, the patterns are linear and geometric. When the design elements are pulled apart, small holes are visible between them, which also result from the weaving technique.
Typical are strong colours that are extracted from plants and minerals like Persian carpets. Thus, original kellims from the Middle East are 100% natural products.
Although at times you may find kellim rugs included in the general genre of "oriental rugs", in more accepted practice, kellims (also written as kelim, gelim or killim) are in a class of their own.
The major difference between a Kellim area rug and a Carpet or a pile rug is that whereas the design visible on a pile rug is made by individual, short strands of different color being knotted onto the warps and held together by pressing the wefts tightly.
Kellim designs are made by interweaving the variously colored wefts and warps, thus creating what is known as a flat-weave.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 kellim that is reversible with the same pattern on both sides in most cases.
Kilims are Versatile:
Are kellim rugs just floor coverings?
No, some are hangings, some are bench or sofa coverings, bags or mule saddles. They are very popular as colorful kilim pillows, as well.
What does it take to make a kellim?
In material terms, not very much really. A loom, a beating comb, a shuttle (optional) and a knife or scissors are the simple tools needed and wool is the primary material. Cotton, silk and animal hair (goat, camel) are also sometimes used, mostly in conjunction with wool.
Gold or silver thread, beads, and other small decorative baubles that strike the weaver's fancy are also sometimes inserted into the design, but not very often.
The earliest known illustration of a loom appears on an Egyptian bowl dated to ca. 4000BC, but its invention is believed to have been made even earlier, at the dawn of civilization. Today, though looms may vary in type, size and complexity of construction, in most cases they are quite simple structures of wood with, perhaps, a few metal parts.
The function of the loom is to hold the longitudinal strands (known as warps) under tension so that the horizontal strands (called wefts) can be woven between the warps to produce a kellim rug.
Custom and circumstances usually determine the type of loom used.
Sedentary villagers usually employ a fixed vertical loom while nomads, for the sake of portability, generally employ a horizontal ground loom where stakes driven into the ground hold the loom in position.
Adjustable looms with a fixed width but with a mechanism permitting the completed horizontal kellim section to be moved out of the way of the weaver are usually found in more sophisticated contemporary kellim workshops.
A beating comb is usually just a larger and cruder version of the familiar hair comb; it is usually made of wood, metal, bone, horn, or some combination of these materials. Its function is to compress, i.e. "beat down", succeeding lines of wefts against the preceding ones so that the kilim rug produced is tightly woven.
The shuttle is basically a stick with notches in the ends. When used, the weft end is placed in the notch and the shuttle is then inserted between alternate warps to produce a weave, but weavers often prefer to dispense with the shuttle and pass the weft between the warps by hand.
Wool is the primary and often the only material used to make a kellim rug. Many kilims are made totally from wool where it is used for both warps and wefts, and wool is the primary weft material used with cotton warps, which accounts for the great majority of all kilims.
This popularity of wool is due to its inherent qualities.
It is supple, durable, handles easily when spun or woven, readily takes on dyes and, most important, is in plentiful supply in kilim-making regions.
There are certain breeds of sheep, like the merino, whose fleece is especially sought-after for its special luster and length of fiber, but actually it's the domestic fat-tailed sheep bred with its favorable climatic and grazing conditions that provides much of the excellent fleece used in kilims.
Cotton is commonly used for warps because of its high strength and plentiful supply. Also, because it keeps its shape well in use, retains its natural whiteness with age, and because it can be spun into fine, thin strands, it is commonly interwoven in places to highlight certain aspects in the overall design executed mainly with wool.
Animal hair: goat or camel- is used sparely in kellim-making, but to good effect.
Very strong and durable camel hair, where available, is sometimes used to give added strength to a woolen kellim rug.
Goat hair was commonly used to weave nomadic tent and floor covers for its strength. Whereas goat hair is rougher than wool, angora goat hair, "mohair", is much softer and gives a silky sheen when mixed with wool. Mohair is also used to make the lustrous "filikli tulu" with its shining locks of hair.
Motif and design:
Motifs are derived from symbols that were used in ages gone by to inform, communicate and to convey ideas. Over time, some of these signs merged with myths, acquired hidden significance and moved into the world of esoteric symbolism.