What are kilim rugs?
Oriental rugs fall into two general categories: pile rugs, which have knots and are plush on one side, and kilims rugs—also called flatweaves—which are not knotted but smoothly flat on both sides. A flatwoven kilim rug is made using the same basic technique by which any fabric is woven: a grid of vertical yarns, called warps, is tightly interlaced with horizontal lines of yarns called wefts. The warps are mostly hidden by the interwoven weft yarns, but they show as the terminating fringes at either end of a rug. The most highly valued kilim rugs are made of 100% wool, and their fringes (warps that are showing) will be woolen. Cotton warps, however, do not necessarily indicate that a kilim rug is of poor quality. It will be just as durable as a pure wool kilim rug, and equally lovely; it is simply less costly to use cotton warps in kilim rug’s production. Therefore a good bargain can sometimes be had by buying a rug with a cotton foundation. Tribal kilim rugs are typically made by cottage industry, in the homes of families who raise livestock from which they obtain their wool. They then either hand-spin the wool into yarn or take it to a mill to be machine-spun, which is less labor-intensive and keeps production costs low. You can easily tell the difference between hand-spun wool and machine-spun by looking closely at the surface of a kilim rug. Are its wefts of a uniform thickness, without many nubs, and do the fringes look like commercial thread—as perfectly wound as a rope? Then the wefts and warps are machine-spun. If, however, the yarns exhibit irregularities, being thinner in some places and thicker in others, they were hand-spun. A hand-spun wool kilim rug will always be more expensive than a machine-spun-fiber rug, because the labor involved in hand-spinning is formidable. After shearing their sheep or goats (from which angora comes), the weaver then must wash the raw wool and remove any debris, such as straw or burrs. Then the wool is carded to get all the fibers lined up in one direction, instead of in a big tangle. Then the carded wool is wound on a spinning device, either a wheel or a simple weighted spindle, and with her fingers the weaver twirls the raw wool into skeins of yarn. She must keep her fingers lubricated with glycerine or friction will soon wear the skin off her fingertips! After spinning, the wool is then dyed. If vegetal dyes are used, the colors will be softer and richer—but these attributes, too, come at the cost of intensive labor. Vegetal dyestuffs are made from such materials as walnut shells (for browns); onion skins (for yellow); henna (for oranges); and for pinks and reds, the most commonly used vegetal dye source in the Middle East is the root of the wild madder plant, from which painters have for centuries derived the pigment called rose madder. But those are very basic recipes. To achieve hues of blue or purple or other exotic shades, highly sophisticated recipes of plants and minerals are concocted by a master dyer. Some of the dye recipes he or she uses have been handed down for centuries, possibly even millennia, and may be closely guarded family secrets. Skeins of undyed wool get boiled in vats of concentrated pigment solution, with the addition of a chemical called a mordant, such as alum, to set the dye. In cottage industry the wool gets dyed in small batches, and no two skeins will look exactly alike, giving rise to the property in tribal rugs called “abrash.” Abrash is simply slight color variations in the body of the finished Kilim rug: it may be redder in one section than another, or mottled. Abrash is most noticeable in handspun wools that naturally take a dye unevenly due to their variable thickness. Abrash is considered a highly desirable trait, because it makes for a more natural and richer looking kilim. Abrash can be imitated by machine-spun yarns that have been factory dyed, too, but in that case it tends to be predictably regular. (Natural abrash is quite random.) Once you have seen a comparison of contrived and natural abrash, you will be expert at telling the difference between hand-spun wool dyed in small batches and factory-spun wool dyed in quantity. Below are two photos that show synthesized/contrived abrash (top), and natural abrash (lower, especially in the red fields):
And now to show you the difference between inexpensive chemical dyes, and secret-recipe vegetal dyes. The first photo is of a chemically dyed kilim rug; the second is of a kilim rug that was dyed vegetally.
Can you see the differences between two kilim rugs?
TO BE CONTINUED...
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