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The kilim carpet: origins and techniques

The kilim carpet, whose name comes from the Persian "gelim", is commonly called "klim" in Tunisia and Morocco. It is a carpet whose making technique is weaving on a vertical loom.


Tunisian kilims - © Chwaya

Kilims origins

The kilim is considered to come from the Middle East (Anatolia, Persia, Caucasus), but this technique is also found in the rest of the world: in the Maghreb, in Central Europe, in Scandinavia and even in Latin America. Many vestiges attest that the kilim was born almost 10,000 years ago when the sheep were domesticated.

On the left, Turkish and Cretan kilims shop in Chania (Crete). On the right, Mexican kilim. © Chwaya

In Tunisia

In Tunisia, kilims are traditionally woven by nomads from the South. They are indeed easily transportable and serve multiple uses (camel bedding, separation in tents, etc.).


Caravan in the plain of Sidi-Aïch - Charles Lalemant

However, the kilim is widespread in all towns and villages in southern Tunisia and is used mainly as a carpet, but also as a wall hanging.

Styles and patterns in Tunisia

Each tribe or village has its own styles and patterns, which brings great richness to Tunisian rugs and carpets. The patterns are very tightly woven and therefore sharper and better defined than on knotted rugs. They are predominantly Berber and always geometric, with triangles and rhombuses being the most common. They allow you to play with colors and that is why kilims are often very colorful.


Tunisian kilims - © Chwaya

Weaving

The weaving of the kilim is obtained by the interweaving of warp threads and weft threads. The craftswoman first lays out the warp threads that will determine the size of the carpet, all distinct and parallel to each other along the length. The weft threads are then woven width-wise, perpendicular to the warp threads. They are discontinuous according to the color zones; the weaver therefore changes color as soon as the pattern requires it.


Tunisian loom, Sahara Museum of Douz - © Yamen, CC BY-SA 3.0

Very strong, kilims have the particularity of being lighter than knotted rugs, which allows for better daily maintenance. Neither too thin nor too compact, Tunisian kilims are however thicker than those from the Middle East.

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