The term kilim originates from the Persian "ghelim" or "kelim", which means "to stretch". These particular “flat carpets” were initially also called Karamani, as they were produced mainly in the Karaman region, in Anatolia.
Their technique is similar to that of embroidery, since the warp weaves of various colors are intertwined (with a spool) alternately over and under the various chains, turning back once the extreme edge of the area intended for their color; as the work progresses, the plots tighten together.
Often made with wool threads, more rarely with animal hair or vegetable fibers, the ancient Kilims that have come down to us are unfortunately very rare, precisely because of the perishable nature of the fibers used over time.
Unlike in knotted rugs, the two sides of the fabric are identical. A characteristic of some kilims are slits in the vertical direction of the fabric: this occurs when the design follows vertical lines parallel to the warp chains; the two wefts of different colors are in fact hooked to two contiguous chains which, however, remain separate from each other and give rise to the so-called “cuts”. This does not happen if wefts of different colors are alternately hooked to the same warp chain, which however prevents the formation of perfectly vertical lines in the design. This technique, which offers greater overall robustness to the kilim, is not commonly used in Anatolian ones, while it is common in artifacts from Bessarabia, Georgia and Afghanistan.
To better highlight a particular geometric motif or symbol, in the kilims with detachments (and only in those) there is sometimes a 'contour', obtained by leaving one or more warp threads 'free' at the border of the area to be framed, and then using a further thread (sometimes double), which is passed over and under the free warp.
A characteristic of kilim weaving, compared to hand-knotted rugs, is that the weaver finishes each area of color before moving on to another part of the rug. This fact can be explained by the need of the nomadic craftsman to carry only limited quantities of wool during the journey: every time the tribe stops and assembles the loom, the weaver must therefore use the wool he has brought with him. Not being able to decide with certainty in advance the colors and decorative motifs, the Kilim thus becomes a sort of kaleidoscope of different colors, details and decorative motifs.
The design is mainly of a geometric nature, although sometimes scenes of the same repertoire of knotted rugs appear. Often the kilims have borders with bands decorated with popular motifs such as animals or small trees, which originate from ancient beliefs of artisan populations.
Kilims are quite widespread in Turkey and the Caucasus and present everywhere in Persia, where the greatest production is attributed to the semi-nomadic populations of central-southern Iran and those of Turkmenistan, who manufacture artifacts of great beauty and originality, preserving decorative patterns and traditional colors.
Widely used by tribes such as carpets, cushions, sacks or blankets, the Kilims were part of the family heritage and were part of the marriage dowry.
In the West, on the other hand, until not many years ago, these were considered inferior compared to the much more renowned knotted carpets. Over time, however, thanks in part to the bibliography of talented scholars and to the fact that with their geometric motifs well suited to the changing tastes of European and American architects and their creations, centered on aesthetic minimalism or ethnic style, the Kilims began to be considered as an example of high level craftsmanship, sometimes of art, like the most famous Persian and ancient Caucasian carpets.
It has even been hypothesized that the archetype of "textile culture" itself began with the kilim, as it represents (with its intertwining only wefts and warps) of the "duality" that according to many governs the world: Good and evil , yin and yang, man and woman, etc ...
A school of thought was therefore born that sees the characteristic styles of kilims as a real language, through which hundreds of generations of Anatolian women, albeit through continuous and brilliant personal interpretations worthy of high-level textile designers, have transmitted a unique symbolic corpus of its kind, that is the first true history of humanity and its beliefs, a fundamentally Neolithic, agricultural and feminine theology.
The kilim is therefore seen as a real "textile document", of enormous importance for its extreme archaicity, readable through an operation of decryption of its symbols.
In support of this thesis, according to the writings of archaeologists such as James Mellaart (discoverer of the ruins of the Neolithic city of Catalhuyuk, of art dealers such as John Eskenazi, of Bekis Balpinar (founder and first director of the Wakiflar Museum in Istanbul, an institution dedicated exclusively to to the carpet and to the Anatolian kilim) and Udo Hirsh (prehistoric scholar who has lived for decades in Turkey and the Caucasus), there would be considerable similarities (not to mention real "reproductions") between the stylized symbols of ancient kilims and messages paintings on the walls and in the scutures found in Catalhuyuk, almost always depicting stylized women in the act of procreation; in many cases, skulls of bulls or more rarely deer and rams.
The current production of kilims has become “vulgarized” both in the technique and in the historiographical value of the artifacts. In fact, today the Turkish villages have become the center of a Kilim production destined mainly for trade and export.
Traditional motifs and decorations have mostly been forgotten and replaced with those largely dictated by Western tastes. Furthermore, natural dyes have been completely abandoned to the benefit of chemical ones.
The term Soumakh probably derives from the commercial city, located in the Caucasian region of Shirwan, of Scemakha, also known for the production of a rusty red dye, of vegetable origin, used in dyeing fabrics.
In fact, Soumakh owes its fame to the great carpets woven throughout the Caucasus in recent centuries (just think of those with the 'dragons' design, which have become almost impossible to find - and in any case unapproachable - after the great demand a decade ago. ), while in Anatolia it was usually used only as an additional technique (Cicim) to generate small designs, and more rarely (and only in some areas of western Anatolia) to produce carpets.
Contrary to kilims, and although belonging to the same category as flat carpets, Soumakhs are made with a technique in which the weaver wraps the colored thread of the weft until it takes four warp threads on the front side of the carpet, then making it go back again. two threads on the reverse, then wraps four more, goes back by two, and so on ... (as well as 4/2 the ratio between front and rear winding can also be different: for example 3/1, or 2/4 in some Anatolian sumakhs. This procedure is carried out with yarns of various colors throughout the width of the carpet; the 'return' of this weft can be carried out either maintaining the same inclination or varying it: in the second case a 'fishbone effect' is obtained '.
Furthermore, in some soumakhs, between one weft 'winding' and the other, a simple weft passage is made (once above and one under the warp from one end of the soumakh to the other) to stabilize its structure. Both the warp and the (possible) structural reinforcement weft are totally covered by the enveloping wefts that design the soumakh.
We can therefore affirm that the Soumakhs are like Kilims with the added “embroidery” of the design. It is clear that, given the structure of the artifact, the Soumakh (unlike the Kilim) is not an identical carpet when viewed from both sides, in fact it has a straight and a reverse, and in particular the reverse, you can see a series of " colored threads ”(wefts) that are left to hang on the back. Even from the point of view of the thickness, strength and heat they generate, Soumakhs can be considered “better” than other flat rugs and in particular kilims. With regard to the "anthropological theology" that is inherent in the making of Kilims, it should be remembered that the Soumakhs (just like the knotted rugs) are not limited to the "duality" weft-warp, but also contain a third dimension (the design of the wefts ) which, just like the knots for carpets, represents the "human" contamination with respect to the ancestral divine symbolism of kilims.