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Reading Between the Lines – Anatolian Kilims

Harry Koll, co-organiser of the current exhibition of Anatolian kilims at the Deutsches Textilmuseum in Krefeld, offers some thoughts on the enduring role of simple striped flatwoven textiles in Turkish rural and urban life.

We are all familiar with a range of Anatolian kilim types, both complex patterned and simple striped, from the published literature. From visits to Anatolian houses and tents we know that simple striped kilims are used for everyday purposes: for example, to cover the floor or the divan. Even today in Turkish urban apartments you will often see a pile of neatly stacked bedding covered with a striped textile. In rural areas, especially in spring and summer, in front of village houses you find simple, natural-colored striped kilims made of undyed wool, cotton and goat hair, shading the harvested produce of fields and gardens from the strong sun or acting as temporary walls and doors in goat and cow sheds.


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It is precisely these kilims, where the practical value is paramount, that have retained their place in the daily life of the people of Anatolia, whereas the more elaborate patterned kilims are threatened with extinction or have already long since vanished from the scene. This particular element of Anatolian textile culture has to some extent been preserved by the fact that complex patterned textiles began entering private and public collections relatively early. By contrast, stripes kilims (especially unpatterned or ‘pure’ striped kilims), are rarely found in collections. There are many reasons for this. It is hard to find old striped kilims that are worth collecting – they tend to be worn out by daily use and then discarded. It also appears that the graphic and chromatic qualities of these pieces are not appreciated, or at least are under-appreciated.


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Examination of more than 250 white-ground utility wool kilims from the Konya/Karapinar region with undyed natural-colored stripes showed that no two were identical. Even among several hundred striped kilims with dyed wool and camel hair, both the number of different variations and the richness of creativity as regards form and color were astonishing. Unfortunately, the great majority of these pieces were from the second half of the 19th or early 20th century, so they were seldom worth collecting due to the use of chemical dyes. Most of them were also in pretty poor condition, so that expensive conservation measures would have been needed in almost every case.

The graphic, chromatic and structural quality of the best pieces gives us reason to fear that an essential component of Anatolia’s textile art has been discovered almost too late. We can only speculate as to what may have gone missing forever during the decades of ignorance, when many striped kilims were unravelled and their wool used to repair more ‘important’ carpets and kilims. For lack of adequate documentation, a last surviving remnant of a culture that probably formed part of the early history of the development of textile imagery threatens to be lost forever.

Source: Harry Koll in HALI – Carpet, Textile and Islamic Art, issue 125.

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