When it comes to home furnishings, we sometimes find ourselves swinging on the pendulum between form and function.
Yes, we want our furniture and trappings to actually serve some purpose (is a chair that you can’t sit on really still a chair at all?), but we also want them to look good and contribute to the overall theme of the room. And while area rugs may not be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of essential home furnishings, they are important additions to any home. Rugs serve the two-part mandate by adding personality, warmth, and a splash of much-needed color underfoot while also helping protect your flooring and insulate against noise and temperature.
And among the highest quality rugs in the world is the kilim rug.
Here, we take a look at what may be the world’s favorite type of handmade rug, including its origin, how it’s made, what sets it apart from other rugs, and how you can ensure that your kilim rug stays soft and vibrant for years to come. But first things first: What is a kilim Rug?
What Are Kilim Rugs?
What is “kilim?” Kilim originates from the Persian word “gelim” which refers to a specific kind of pileless, tapestry-woven textile, usually in the form of a rug. This kind of rug is pileless in that it is flat woven by hand. The designs on a kilim rug are created by interweaving weft (horizontal) and warp (vertical) threads on a loom. This means that the final product is reversible, with the design visible on either side of the rug. Kilim rugs are also low density—much flatter and thinner than most pile rugs, and with a much different texture.
In terms of form, these pileless, tapestry-woven rugs tend to feature vibrant colors and complex geometric designs and are perfect for adding some exuberance to otherwise neutral-hued rooms (such as bedrooms, bathrooms, or kitchens).
A (Very) Brief History of Kilim
Kilim has a rich cultural history dating back to ancient times. In fact, the earliest known example of an actual kilim rug was discovered in excavated grave mounds in the Siberian Altai region and is believed to have originated around the fifth century BCE (other archaeological finds such as painted walls and pottery may depict even earlier examples dating back to about 8000 BCE). The fact that the kilim found in Siberia was able to survive for thousands of years speaks to the rug's durability.
This durability is one of the things that gives kilim such an enduring cultural legacy. For centuries kilim rugs have been used as prayer rugs, saddle covers, and to protect and enhance the floors of mosques and other important buildings throughout Northern Africa, Central and East Asia, and the Middle East. Modern kilim rugs come primarily from Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and India.
How Are Kilim Rugs Made?
As mentioned above, kilim rugs are flatweaves, most often made from wool. Wool is a naturally durable fiber that nonetheless offers pliability and ease of spinning. It also has a natural shine and is easy to dye a variety of colors.
Although wool is the preferred material for kilim rugs, weavers may also incorporate cotton, linen, silk, or even certain kinds of animal hair into the rug—generally goat, horse, or camel hair. These additional materials may be used to improve the rug’s durability, add additional softness or sheen, or simply to create interesting accents (such as tassels). True kilims use only natural vegetable-based dyes, resulting in a more muted, organic color palette.
Using traditional techniques, the weaver will intertwine horizontal wefts with vertically aligned warps on a loom. Weft threads are weaved across the warp and pulled down tightly to completely cover the warp threads. Skilled weavers will use various techniques and dyed weft yarns to create ornate, complex designs and patterns, typically in geometric motifs specific to the group or area they represent. Once the rug is finished, the weaver will untie the kilim from the loom’s frame and tie off the warp thread to create the rug’s fringe.
The materials used are not overly expensive or difficult to come by. That said, the skill and time required to make a kilim rug may be substantial. Hand weaving a single 9-foot by 6-foot kilim rug may take as long as 16 weeks, even for an experienced artisan. And although there are machines capable of producing a form of kilim, those that are made by hand are of higher quality due to their production technique.
How Do Kilim Rugs Differ from Other Rugs?
Kilim rugs are unique, and stand out from piled rugs in several ways:
Kilim Rugs Are Flat Woven
Probably the single biggest differentiating factor is that kilim rugs are pileless. They are woven flat. This sets them apart from piled rugs that are created by knotting individual short strands of different colors onto the warps and then securing the wefts by pressing them tightly together. As a result, a finished kilim will have a more defined, graphic look, with clearly delineated designs.
Also unlike piled rugs, flat woven kilim rugs do not need to be trimmed down to achieve an even surface.
Kilim Rugs Are Easier to Move
Because kilim rugs are flatwoven, they are extremely lightweight when compared to piled rugs. This makes them more portable—they can be easily rolled up and moved.
Kilim Rugs are Lower Maintenance
If you’ve ever had to clean or repair a more-conventional handmade rug, you know that cleaning with an experienced cleaning vendor is an investment. Kilim rugs are extremely durable and require less frequent cleaning and maintenance, and can often be spot cleaned (carefully) by hand without the need to hire a professional.
Kilim Rugs Don’t Trap Dust
Another differentiator between kilim and piled rugs is that they are much less likely to trap (and then release) dust. This is not only beneficial when it comes time to clean the rug, it’s also advantageous for those who may suffer from allergies or respiratory problems; no piles means significantly fewer allergens being spread throughout the living space. And as an added bonus, kilim rugs don’t shed.
If you have allergy or asthma sufferers in your home, then a kilim may be your best option.
Kilim Rugs Feature More Vibrant Designs
Finally, kilim rugs are often identifiable by their unique geometric patterns. And while standard piled rugs may mimic the designs traditionally associated with kilim, they’re unlikely to be able to match a kilim’s vibrancy or clarity. Again, this is because piled rugs use knotted strands that stand up from the rug, naturally spreading out from where they are attached. The flatweave of the kilim rug allows for a more distinct image.
The techniques used in slit weaving kilim rugs also produce another unique feature: If you look closely at a slit-weave rug, you will notice small vertical slits along the edges of the graphical patterns where one color meets another. These are more than simply a byproduct of the weaving technique; they add to the overall vibrancy of the rug, helping the shapes better stand out from the background.
Kilim Rugs Are Great Year Round
Kilim rugs are good insulators, helping you maintain heat in your home when the temperature outside starts to drop. Interestingly enough, they have the opposite effect in the summer! The flat weave captures and traps less heat than piled designs, making them more breathable and comfortable to have inside during hot summer months. This is likely one of the reasons why kilim rugs are so prevalent in warmer climates.
Do Kilim Rugs Cost Less?
Because handmade kilim rugs demand so much time and skill to create, it may surprise you to learn that kilim rugs are actually more budget-friendly than many other handmade oriental rugs. Why? Well, to put it simply, it’s because other handmade rugs tend to require more time to make and demand even more effort. Because kilim rugs are flat woven, they can be produced faster and in greater numbers, making them more affordable overall.
This makes them a perfect choice for those who want eye-catching rugs but aren’t interested in making an investment in a hand knotted piled rug.
Cleaning and Maintaining a Kilim Rug
We mentioned earlier that kilim rugs are easier to maintain than many piled rugs. We stand by that assessment—in most cases you won’t need any specialized skill or unique materials to clean a kilim rug and keep it in good shape. But that’s not to say that you can just douse them in detergents. If you want your kilim rug to continue looking like new for years to come, you need to take the right steps in caring for it.
Shaking and Sweeping
They say that sometimes the old ways really are best. For centuries the preferred method of cleaning a kilim rug has been to take it outside and shake it out. You may also choose to beat the rug with a soft-bristle broom. This will allow you to loosen and dislodge dirt and other particulate matter that may have become stuck in the fibers. But don’t go overboard; kilim rugs are durable, but if you beat or shake them too vigorously, you can still damage the threads.
Alternatively, you may choose to sweep the rug rather than take it outside. Brushing it from top to bottom, and then flipping it over to do the same to the reverse side, will remove much of the dirt without forcing you to get too rough.
Probably the go-to solution for piled rug owners, vacuuming works just as well (or possibly even better) on kilim rugs. But again, you should take care that your vacuum isn’t damaging the threads. A low-suction vacuum may be ideal, and avoid any sort of rotating beater-brush heads.
Vacuum one side of the rug, avoiding the fringe, and then vacuum the other side in the same way.
Although you should be able to remove most of the dirt and grime with sweeping, shaking, and vacuuming, sometimes a dirty rug really does need to be washed. When washing your rug, just make sure that you’re using a gentle cleanser. Many carpet shampoos may be too harsh, favoring a deep clean over keeping the rug itself safe. The good news is that you can make your own gentle cleaning solution by mixing ½ cup of hand-cleaning carpet shampoo with 1 tbsp of white vinegar and 4 ½ cups of warm water.
Lather the solution evenly throughout the rug, spreading it with a soft brush. Scrub the rug only lightly and make sure that you brush the fringe using even strokes. Then just rinse the rug in clean, lukewarm water and allow it to dry. For stains, you’ll want to dab up any liquids and clean away any solids as quickly as possible. Then use the same kind of cleansing solution detailed above to spot clean the affected area, scrubbing gently to remove the stain.
Even with kilim rugs, our best recommendation is to have them cleaned by a professional. This will ensure the best results and the least work on your part. Our team of rug experts can help you find a recommended cleaning professional in your area.
The Bottom Line
There are many advantages to decorating with a kilim rug. These unique home furnishings are attractive, durable, easy to maintain, and capable of fitting within nearly any budget. And to top it all off, they bring with them a powerful sense of culture and tradition, one that is perfect for every season and most décor styles.
Interested in making a kilim rug a part of your home design? Shop handmade kilim rugs today, and let Tufenkian help you find the perfect option to match your needs. After all, the right rug is about form and function, and with kilim rugs, you’ll enjoy both.