Magazine article International Trade Forum

Traditional Carpets and Kilims

Magazine article International Trade Forum

Traditional Carpets and Kilims

Article excerpt

Producers and exporters of traditional carpets and kilims need new marketing approaches to meet today's challenges: an increase in machine-made carpets that imitate Oriental rugs and kilims; growing consumer interest in environmentally friendly products; and consumer concern about child labour.

Repositioning carpets as "tokens of heritage", joining industry forces to educate consumers, using the Internet effectively and making the right contacts are among the ways producers and exporters can stay competitive. ITC is working with several international organizations to give greater identity to hand-made carpets in trade statistics. This change would give policy makers more accurate data for trade development planning. Maria-Mercedes Sala, ITO Market Development Officer for artisanal products, reports.

Millennia of tradition are behind the hand-made carpets and kilims of today.

Carpet knotting is thought to have started some 3,500 years ago in Central Asia, a crossroads for many civilizations. In making tents to protect themselves against rigorous weather, migrating tribes used goat hair. This material -- longer and stiffer than sheep's wool -- led tent makers to develop the flat-weave technique, so that the fabric was smooth and tightly woven. The result yielded virtually waterproof tents. The technique was then applied to create floor coverings to insulate the tent's earthen ground from humidity: the first kilims were born.

Over time, the art of weaving evolved and kilims were used to serve other practical needs: as room dividers in tents, blankets, prayer rugs, saddle bags and even as rocking cradles. In an attempt to improve tent beds made from stacks of leaves and to fold and carry sleeping mats on horseback easily, nomads started imitating animal pelts by adding pile to basic flat-woven articles: the first knotted pile carpets thus appeared.

The oldest surviving pile carpet -- discovered in 1947 in the Altai mountains of Siberia and now exhibited at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg -- has been carbon-dated to have been from the fifth century B.C.

From ancient times to today's markets

Since then, hand-made carpets and kilims have found their place, from modest dwellings to rich homes and palaces. Variety in design and craftsmanship reflects traditions handed down from one generation to the next. In parallel with this production activity, trade in carpets has always flourished. Nowadays, carpet-making accounts for the highest percentage of all craft exports in a great number of developing countries.

Kilims and Carpets Primer

What is a kilim?

A kilim is a flat, hand-woven rug made through household production by women in nomadic tribes and rural areas in Asia, Central Europe and northern Africa. Depending on the country of origin, it may also be called kelem, khilim, kelim, gelim, karamanie, palas or hanbel. Usually, the warp (the length of the rug) is made of wool, and the weft (the width of the rug) of wool or cotton. The basic weaving method consists in passing the crosswise threads of the weft under and over the lengthwise threads of the warp. Sometimes, a kilim may consist of two or more segments sewn together, with the stitching concealed within the design. One short side often contains a fringe, while the other short side has a woven edge. A border pattern often appears on the longer sides of the rug.

The coloured threads are completely woven into the rug like a basket, making it reversible. Although the face may be distinguished from the reverse, the difference is so slight that either side may be used. In the past, colours were made from vegetable dyes, and recipes were kept as family secrets.

Kilim patterns never display flowers or foliage, only rectilinear designs, influenced by the weaver's traditions, beliefs and environment. The colours and designs used in each producing region are exclusive to that region, making it easy to identify the origin. …

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