Kilim: Background information when reading Orhan's Inheritance

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Orhan's Inheritance

by Aline Ohanesian

Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian X
Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2015, 352 pages

    Jan 2016, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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This article relates to Orhan's Inheritance

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In Orhan's Inheritance, Orhan and his family are makers of kilim rugs, a type of carpet manufactured in Turkey using a technique referred to as "flatweave" (i.e., a rug that is woven rather than knotted). Dating back to at least 4th century China, this type of rug is common throughout Central Asia, and is known as a palas (Ukraine); liat (Caucasia); chilim (Syria and Lebanon) and gelim (Iran).

A kilim When talking about carpets, the most important terms to understand are "warp" and "weft." The warp, the series of vertical threads that are tautly stretched across a frame to form a sort of scaffolding for the rug, is generally made of cotton because the fiber is relatively strong and can be spun finer than most other materials.

The weft is the colorful yarn that creates the actual pattern. Traditional carpets primarily use wool for the weft because it's supple, durable, takes dye well and is in plentiful supply in the regions where kilims are manufactured.

Unlike pile carpet manufacture where short threads are knotted to the warp, in a kilim the weft is woven horizontally between strands of the warp and then tightly pulled against lower rows of the weft. In plain-weave rugs the weft and warp are evenly spaced and both are seen in the finished product. In kilims, however, the warps are more widely spaced and the wefts are packed very densely, completely covering the warps. Kilims are also generally created using the "slitweave" technique: rather than completing an entire row before reversing direction, the weft turns back on itself partway down the row, creating a block of one particular color. The point at which the two colors meet is known as the slit as there is no thread joining the two neighboring pieces of warp. The slitweave technique results in bold, sharp patterns that are often woven on the diagonal, because the rug is stronger when the slits do not line up.

Kilim Weaver The tools needed for creating a kilim are relatively simple. In addition to the yarn, all that is really required is a loom to hold the warp under tension and a beating comb (an object that looks like a large hair comb, made out of wood, metal, bone or horn, used to compress the wefts). Some use a shuttle to pass the weft in and out of the warp, but this is optional; many who create kilims feel a shuttle only slows them down and prefer to work with their hands alone.

For most of the kilim's history dyes have been made from plant, animal and mineral materials. According to, "Madder root, indigo, St. John's wort, onion, saffron, sumac, chamomile, rhubarb, turmeric, sage, poppy, buckthorn, quince, almond, walnut, chestnut and henna are just a few of the long list of natural dye sources, with madder and indigo perhaps the most commonly used." A bonding agent is also added before and sometimes during the dyeing process. Called a "mordant," it can be made from materials such as alum, chrome, copperas, tin, tannin or urine. Getting the perfect shade of color depends on many factors such as the quality and amount of dyeing agent, the temperature of the water, and the length of time the yarn is allowed to soak.

Originally kilims were deemed inferior to knotted rugs because of their thinness and because the design gives less protection to the warp and weft than a knotted rug so they are less robust. Recently, however, rug collectors have come to value kilims as works of art, and handmade traditional kilims are now in much higher demand.

Picture of kilim and woman weaving one from

Filed under Music and the Arts

Article by Kim Kovacs

This "beyond the book article" relates to Orhan's Inheritance. It originally ran in April 2015 and has been updated for the January 2016 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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