Kilims and The History of Flat Woven Rugs

Kilims and Flat Weave Rug History

Kilims are a type of handmade flat-woven rug that are characterized by the absence of piles or knotted fluff. Although the word is of Turkish origin, this type of rug has been traditionally made in many different regions around the world, including Turkey, Persia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Morocco, the Balkans and even Scandinavia.

The technique of making textiles using looms is believed to have originated thousands of years ago. The earliest known drawing of a loom is on a bowl from ancient Egypt. The bowl dates back to 4,000 BC. The loom, however, is thought to have been invented much earlier. In fact, the first looms were probably invented at the dawn of human civilization, which is believed to be between 10,000 BC and 20,000 BC.

Antique Turkish Kilims Nazmiyal
Antique Turkish Kilims

Carpets and rugs appeared much later than other kinds of fabrics. In the book “KILIM, The Complete Guide,” co-authored by Alistair Hull and Jose Luczyc-Wyhowska, the authors have stated that the flat-weave technique probably began at about 1,000 BC, based on the discovery in Fostat, Egypt of flat-woven textiles that date back to from the seventh to the eleventh century BC.

However, Peter Davies has written in his book “The Tribal Eye: Antique Kilims of Anatolia” that flat weaving techniques seem to have entered Egypt from Syria, and not the other way round. Citing author E.J.W. Barber’s authoritative book “Prehistoric Textiles,” he states that managed flocks of sheep suitable for wool production did not appear until the third or fourth century BC, meaning that kilims could not have been made before that time.

Antique Persian Mazandaran Kilims Namziyal
Antique Persian Mazandaran kilims

Experts believe that the specimens found at the site of the ancient Phrygian City of Gordion in Anatolia, in present day Turkey, are the earliest examples of true kilim rugs because they are made using advanced flat-weave technique. These specimens date back to the 4th century AD, indicating that kilims originated in Anatolia.

A piece of kilim discovered by explorer Mark Aurel Stein in Hotan, China dating back to the 4th century AD seems to prove this theory. Remarkably, its weave is almost identical to the weave of modern day kilims, indicating that the technique of making kilim was already well developed at that time and that the technique has changed little over the centuries.

Antique kilims found in Iran, Morocco, Scandinavia, and China prove that the flat-weaving technique spread far. Kilims are especially popular in rug-weaving centers with warm climates, where heavily tufted rugs were not needed to keep warm. In addition to floor coverings,  kilims are used as wall insulation, bedding, clothing, and even made into saddle bags and horse covers. The strength and versatility of woolen kilims has made them valuable commodities to both nomadic tribes people and settled cultures. In addition to their practical uses, kilims are now prized for their decorative purposes.

Vintage Mid Century Scandinavian Kilims Nazmiyal
Vintage Mid Century Scandinavian Kilims

Nazmiyal Antique Rugs has many fine kilims from Persia, Morocco and Scandinavia. All these countries have a very long history of kilim making. Dating from  the Middle Ages to the mid 20th century, these antique kilims give valuable insight into the rug making traditions of these countries.

View Nazmiyal’s Entire Kilim Collection