TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Cicim Kilim Rugs: Pure Nomadic Art of Turkey

By Catherine Salter Bayar

My favorite kilims are often the most uncomplicated. In the context of Turkish hand-woven textiles however, simplicity is rarely a straightforward square-weave. Simple in this case? Starting with a rustic base of undyed goat hair in its varied natural colors – dark greys, creams, deep browns, and sometimes even beige shades that verge on mauve - then embellishing that base cloth with brightly colored wool yarns in a very simple geometric pattern in an overall repeat.

When Abit and I first started collecting vintage hand-woven ‘kilims’ (the Turkish name used for all types of flat-woven textiles, in contrast to carpets, ‘hali’ in Turkish, which are knotted) nine years ago for our shop in Selcuk, Turkey, this style immediately caught my eye with its naïve and playful simplicity. Called ‘cicim’ in Turkish, the word is pronounced ‘jijim’ and is sometimes spelled that way by non-Turkish speakers. Instead of weaving wool yarns together into solid colored blocks of geometric pattern, cicims employ embroidery to create their colorful raised geometric shapes.

The cicim weaver either brocaded the pattern into the goat hair warp and weft as she wove, or embroidered it in sections as the goat hair base was completed and still on the loom.

None of the cicims we’ve collected are less than perhaps 30 years old. In my 60-something mother-in-law’s generation, women throughout Anatolia and Eastern Turkey still lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle. Winters were spent in the villages, but summers the families went up into the mountains to take advantage of grazing their animals at higher and cooler altitudes.

Turkish weavers in years gone by had no choice other than to make everything for their homes. There were of course no big-box stores where a homemaker could outfit an entire house at once, like there are today here in modern Turkey. In fact, there were very few shops of any kind outside of large cities. If a woman needed coverings for the floors, cloths to be used for dining, cushions for sitting or containers to carry belongings from place to place, she had to know how to weave.

Because thicker goat hair yarn and large gauge colored wool were used, these pieces were woven fairly quickly, so were favored for all sorts of utilitarian purposes. Goat hair was plentiful, strong and coarse, and had the extra practical aspect of being more waterproof than wool based on a higher oil content. The cicim below was originally folded with sides stitched together to form a ‘donkey bag’, which was literally slung over the back of that hard-working farm animal.

Ends were left in plain-weave stripes, though in this case, the cream-colored goat hair was dyed a vibrant orange and red.

The ends of the cicim below are undyed. This yarn of this cicim is courtesy of those mauve-colored goats I mentioned before, along with their more typical grey cousins!

The goat hair warp yarns were sometimes braided or woven into a beautifully striped natural color twill trim, as seen in the two photos of the same cicim below.

Selvages (the vertical sides of a weaving) were usually bound in a whipstitch of contrasting yarns, as a means to reinforce the edges from fraying, to make the seams of a bag sturdier, as well as to add a decorative touch.

Some cicims were woven on narrow looms, about 12” -15” (30 – 40cm) wide, while others were made on large looms easily 6 – 8 feet (2 – 2.5 meters) wide. This opened bag has wonderful herringbone weave ends to accentuate the central raised triangular motifs representing mountains, and diamond shapes acting as protection for the family against the ‘evil eye’ jealousy of outsiders.

The central geometric theme can get more complex, depending on the skill and imagination of the weaver; or oversized, as in the approximately 7’ x 10’ piece below, which would have covered most all of the floor in a traditional Turkish village salon.

As in all Turkish kilims, symbols have meanings, and the desires of the weaver were spoken though her work. Below, tiny embroidered flowers for abundance outline the letter “S”. In Turkish, “I love you” is “Seni Seviyorum”, so that alliterative phrase was represented frequently in Turkish weavings by that letter.

Though the central ground of a cicim was usually one geometric pattern repeated throughout, there were typically contrasting borders in some form. These borders might be a simple single motif, or a combination of a few. Below, the starburst forms may represent the mountainous terrain, the daily passage of time in sunrise and sunset, or that protective diamond shape which can also mean abundance for the family home.

Below, a striped outline means a rippling stream of clean running water. To the left, the pale green triangle with connected spiral forms is the ‘hands on hips’ symbol of fertility. To the right, the hatchmarks in red (meaning abundance and love) and indigo blue (meaning protection) are the double protection of strong ‘wolves’ mouths’ and diamond ‘evil eyes’.

These are just a few examples of cicims we’ve collected, with the undyed goat hair base weaving common to all the pieces here as the connecting feature. Some of these cicims are for sale on our etsy site: www.bazaarbayar.etsy.com with additional photos. More of my favorite cicim styles to come in future posts, to illustrate the enormous variety of kilims, within just one weaving style, that were woven here in generations past.

Catherine Salter Bayar lives with her husband Abit in Selcuk, near Ephesus, Turkey, where they own a vintage textile shop and a water pipe& wine bar. Visit them at www.bazaarbayar.com or www.bazaarbayar.etsy.com.


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