Before we begin to address the subject of kilim nomenclature there is one point to be clarified, mainly for those first entering the realm of the kilim.
Although at times you may find Kilim Rugs included in the general genre of "oriental rugs", in more accepted practice kilim rugs are in a class of their own, and it is then generally understood that the term "oriental rug" refers to pile rugs, a category which includes carpets.
The difference between a kilim area rug and a carpet or a pile rug is that whereas the design visible on the kilim is made by interweaving the variously colored wefts and warps, thus creating what is known as a Flatweave, in a pile rug individual short strands of different color, usually of wool, are knotted onto the warps and held together by pressing the wefts tightly against each other.
In this case the whole design is made by these separately knotted strands which form the pile, and the patterns become clearly visible after any excessive lengths of the knotted materials are shorn off to create a level surface.
Having thus differentiated between a kilim rug (pileless) and a carpet (with pile) you might think that's all there's to it. Well, not quite.
All of you - all of us - interested in the subject have wandered the cyber byways and noticed that the seemingly simple matter of finding the proper definition of a kilim rug can lead to confusion.
Let's take a look at 'kilim' entries in two online sources generally taken for granted as reliable, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Encyclopaedia Britannica.
The Merriam-Webster entry reads:
"Main Entry: ki•lim
Etymology: Turkish, from Persian kilim
Meaning: A pileless handwoven reversible rug or covering made in Turkey, the Caucasus, Iran, and western Turkestan"
Well, are all kilim rugs reversible? Hardly.
What about those made in the Balkans or North Africa?
Is the etymology correct, does it come from Persian, or is the Persian word "palaz"?
Kilim entry in Encyclopedia Britannica(online) reads:
"pileless floor covering handwoven by tapestry techniques in Anatolia, the Balkans, or parts of Iran. In the rest of Iran, the Caucasus, and Turkistan, the name for similar pieces is palaz. In most kilims, a slit occurs wherever two colours meet along a vertical line in the pattern, but in a few Karabagh or South Caucasian pieces, interlocking methods are employed in order to minimize these slits.
The Turks have produced the largest kilims, usually in two narrow pieces joined, as well as small ones and a multitude of prayer kilims.
As a prayer rug, which is carried about with the worshiper, the light and extremely flexible kilim offers obvious advantages.
In Turkish kilim, cotton is often used for the white areas, and small details may be brocaded. The kilims of the southern Balkans began as close copies of Anatolian types but have gradually developed into individual styles, such as the black, red, and white kilims of Pirot.
In Romania, also, there are varied local fashions, progressively less Oriental in colour and pattern as the distance from Turkey increases.
The name kilim is also given to a variety of brocaded, embroidered, warp-faced, and other flat-woven rugs and bags."
Here again we question: Are kilim rugs just floor coverings? No, some are hangings, some are bench or divan covering, etc., etc. Once more a trusted source of information turns out to be at least a bit misleading.
There are other definitions to be found, some much less accurate, others quaint or curious, but their very profusion shows that more and more people are interested in our favourite subject, the kilim.
Not many years ago the word 'kilim' wasn't even listed in an English dictionary or encyclopaedia! What's more, even today your computer spell-check tool probably doesn't recognize kilim rugs as a legitimate word. Don't worry, it is.
Having researched the matter in some detail in numerous sources we have arrived at the following definition:
Kilim, a word of Turkish origin, denotes a pileless textile of many uses produced by one of several flatweaving techniques that have a common or closely related heritage and are practiced in the geographical area that includes parts of Turkey (Anatolia and Thrace), North Africa, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Central Asia and China.
We believe this definition to be correct though incomplete, because, as all kilim lovers know, no words can convey the romance of the kilim. We try to fill this void by providing in these pages as much detail as possible about the traditions, culture and heritage of kilim-making to make the romance live - and we hope you enjoy it.