Josephine Powell used to tell me stories of the nomadic tribes of Turkey and their culture and weaving traditions. Josephine would speak of the life in the summer camps as the people settled in the high mountain pastures for the flocks to graze while the women were weaving both carpets and kilims.
A friend asked me the other day after reading my blog ‘what is a kilim?’ I explained that the term refers to a flat woven (not knotted) textile, common in many weaving cultures of the world and often woven in a ‘tapestry weave’. This technique is the simplest of weaving structures similar to what we may have woven as children with paper strips – one under, one over. In Turkey many times kilims are woven with a ‘slit weave’ where colours as they meet horizontally do not share a common warp (the up and down wool on the loom). A slit is formed as the colours come together and when holding the textile up to the light one can see small slits throughout the weaving.
I took out my reference book on kilims by Yanni Petsopoulos –Kilims – Flat Woven Tapestry Rugs as I sat down to write this post. I consider this book my ‘go to’ resource on kilims. The book contains over 400 illustrations and some good colour plates and excellent written content. I would recommend keeping an eye open online at Rugbooks.com if you are interested in purchasing a good reference tool for kilims.
Last week one morning I visited a friend in the countryside north of our home in Calgary. She and her husband are clients of mine and I had yet to see the central Anatolian kilim which they had purchased from Leah and I and since hung in their home. In Istanbul, after having the kilim washed, we hired a young woman who painstakingly mounted the kilim on natural linen. She hand stitched the kilim to the backing and was very conscientious about not removing any loose or broken warps. She meticulously stitched every remaining fibre of the kilim to the backing. I was thrilled and impressed with her workmanship. It is so essential to have the individuals who do the restoration be fabulous at what they do. I have had the same young woman do restoration work for us before and have a wonderful large, old kilim fragment in my small inventory here at the house which she has mounted with equal expertise.
On my visit to my clients, both husband and wife were home and I was regaled with the account of the hanging of the kilim. First, a local blacksmith was commissioned to sculpt an iron rod from which the kilim was to hang. Then Hanne, my friend, spread the kilim on its backing on the floor and machine stitched heavy duty black cotton tape loops to the upper edge of the backing. Then the fun really began. Three levels of scaffolding were installed in the living room and even it did not reach the necessary height to install the rod. A ladder was used on the top level of the scaffold to gain the height needed to install the rod. The man of the house is in his 70’s but is unstoppable and took on this project. Fortunately, the wall was a solid wood construction so there were no issues about finding studs to anchor the rod. Fritz (I am relieved to report) accomplished the task with no bodily injury – my hands start to sweat just thinking about the undertaking.
The results were stunning. A wonderful space to display this 19th c weaving from the Aksaray-Obruk weaving region, southwest of Cappadocia and east of Konya in central Turkey. What a ‘bang for their buck’ in terms of having this visually magnificent weaving as a focal point in their living space.
Hanne is a quilter and I thought it appropriate that a woman who so often is working with needle and thread would be drawn to this art form from another woman’s hand, another culture and century. There is a visual overlap between the weaving and the quilting. The play of colour, the power of the negative spaces and the use of reciprocal designs are elements that influence the final visual impact in both mediums.
This central Anatolian kilim made the journey from Istanbul to Canada. It is hard to imagine that the woman who wove this piece did not sit back as it came off the loom and feel a sense of deep accomplishment as she viewed the results of her labours. I know for certain that the owners of this kilim have a similar sense of visual and aesthetic pleasure as they live with this impressive historical document of Turkish woven art.