You are on an eccentric trip to one of Egypt’s deserts; you enter a tribe’s tent and sit on a floor pillow. At once you feel the rough texture of the fabric you’re touching. You look at it and you feel captured by the vivid colors and complex patterns of this tapestry. You ask about it and they tell you it’s “Kilim”. Some many days later, maybe even months, you go to visit a friend of yours at his place. When you enter his bohemian-style apartment, the thing that catches your eye instantly is a rug on the floor of complex patterns that you know you have seen before. You start searching for it till you came to the right place!
We have done an intensive search and went to “Bar El Aman” organization to meet with Mohamed Sharqawy, a kilim artisan from “Fowa” -one of the main Kilim industry centers in Egypt- who has been working in this industry for 25 years and is giving Kilim classes to youth with Down Syndrome at the organization.
So here’s all you need to know about Egyptian “Kilim”!
The History of “Kilim” and Egyptian Tapestry
Egyptian tapestry has always been famous since ancient Egyptian kingdoms. It was mainly from linen, and we have very old fabric pieces from different eras. There are also a lot of inscriptions in tombs showing how the weaving process was done with the traditional loom. In fact, it is very similar to the process we have today in the modern hand-made “Kilim”.
During the Coptic era of Egypt, the Coptic tapestry was famous worldwide. That was because of its high precision, details, and vivid colors.
As for the “Kilim” in specific, the word comes from a Persian origin, meaning “to spread roughly”. It is widespread throughout the territories that were ruled by Persians in history such as modern-day Turkey, Iran, Iraq, etc. So it is possible that it began in Egypt during the Persian invasion period, and it continues to this day.
It witnessed a big step forward during the ruling of “Muhammed Ali”. He imported cotton to Egypt and built many textile factories. This helped the Kilim industry by introducing cotton next to the wool which is the main material for the Kilim.
According to Mohamed Sharqawy, although tapestry was known to ancient Egyptians, the kilim as we know it today came to us from Turkey. ِ A Turkish artisan was forcibly deported to Egypt, to “Assiut” and brought with him the industry which then spread throughout the different Egyptian governorates.
About “Kilim” Rugs
Contrary to the knot by knot technique of carpets or pile-rugs that will usually have a thickness and blurry patterns, “Kilims” are flat-weave rugs. This means that the different colors are interwoven in continuous horizontal lines along the vertical threads of the rug. This gives the “kilim” its thin, flat surface and the definite geometric patterns we usually see. Because of that technique, A “Kilim” rug would take much less time than a pile-rug, making it more affordable.
Components of A Kilim Rug
“Killim” rugs compose of two main components. First, vertical wool threads -warps-. The warps are not visible in the final product of the “Kilim” except at the ends of the rug. Second, the horizontal lines of threads -wefts-. These are the ones we actually see in the design of the final product, and at the ends of the rug, you find the “Seals” or “Habka” in Arabic. The wefts materials can be either wool or cotton, and sometimes with silk, golden, or silver threads in the motifs and patterns to make it more luxurious.
Patterns, Colors, and Designs
As we mentioned before, because of the flat-weaving technique the patterns in “Kilim” have very strong and definite geometric shapes. But there are also very vivid designs with scenes from the Cairene everyday life or with touristic sites, these are mainly wall art pieces and are more expensive. Recently many young entrepreneurs and designers have introduced a lot of new designs into the art, so today we can also find a lot of modern designs and patterns with the same cultural flavor we love about “Kilim”.
Types of Egyptian Kilim
According to Sharqawy, there are different kinds of Egyptian Kilim, that differ in patterns and materials. As for the most common Egyptian design styles, we have the basic consisting of one color or simple patterns, “Tops” which has complex geometric patterns, and “Goblan” with detailed patterns and drawings and mainly used as wall portraits.
As for the colors, they are endless, but the colors vary according to whether they are natural or synthetic, but for sure you’ll find a combination that matches your taste because of their large diversity.
The Making of a Kilim Rug
We talked with Sharqawy about the steps that he goes through when starting a new kilim rug, and it goes like this:
The first step is the design of the rug. If it is a commissioned work then he already has the design and only needs to understand it well, but most of the time he comes up with design patterns himself he and tries to bring in something new.
After finishing the design or understanding it, he chooses the right colors for the rug, and if he doesn’t have the required colors he makes them himself.
The next step is starting working on the loom to produce the required piece of work. each piece varies in the time required to make it and the effort that he puts into it according to the design, and size of the piece. It could take just one day, and it could take monthes.
“Kilim” In Interior Design
Recently people started rediscovering the beauty of “Kilim” in their homes as it brings a bohemian and eclectic vibe, adds color and warmth, and has various applications.
The most basic use of “Kilim” is in area rugs or runners. But we can also use “Kilim” as art pieces wall-rugs in living spaces, and some designers even use it instead of the bed’s headboard.
You can also use “Kilim” to add a pop color and a pattern to your sofas either in the form of throw-sheets, or pillows. And if you’re aiming for a total bohemian style, for example, you might use some “Kilim” floor pillows as well.
Those are the most common uses, but for sure the possibilities for using “Kilim” are just endless.
Challenges Facing Kilim Industry
We talked with Sharqawy about the challenges facing the industry, he said that in the last few decades, the industry and art of Kilim-making witnessed a huge regression, and that’s because of different reasons.
First: Dominance of mechanical carpets
The mechanically made carpets are usually cheaper in price, so unfortunately customers tend to buy them instead of honoring the handmade products of “Kilim”.
Second: Fluctuating tourism
The Kilim makers used to depend a lot on their foreign customers, but because of the many disturbances in the last decade, it hasn’t been steady as it was before.
Third: No young generations
Because of all these reasons, even the “Kilim” makers themselves do not teach their children this art anymore, in the fear that they might not be able to provide for their future families, and so they look for another job that would pay the bills.
Fourth: High Cost, Low Income
He also told us that the job isn’t an easy one, you use hands, legs, mind, and eye, and it needs dedication. But when it comes to income there isn’t much for the artisans as most of the profits go to the merchants, and the artisans have no one to speak for them.
Despite all the challenges that face the “Kilim” industry, many young designers stepped in to revive this art and help the artisans develop new skills and see their craft in a new way with modern designs that cope with today’s world. Because of this “Kilim” pieces are becoming very popular these days and are a trend in new homes with the beauty they bring with them. It is in our culture where our beauty truly lies.
Make sure to have a piece or two of “Kilim” in your house to connect you with your Egyptian roots, and bring warmth to your spaces, check out these beautifully designed “Kilim” pieces from Linesmag online store.
And if you’re interested in Art you might check more of our art articles, Here on Linesmag!