Kilim motifs and what they mean – Part 1

‘Nazar’ (evil eye) motif, woven for protection on an Usak Esme slit-weave (#155)

I started to fall in love with kilims when I learnt about their motifs and meanings.  Some I could pick out straight away, others not at all and on some kilims all the motifs pointed to similar meanings and made for a beautifully illustrated story. I don’t want to pretend that every rug has a specific meaning that we can ‘read’, the weavers hopes, dreams and so forth.  But I believe that particularly with old or antique kilims, a little understanding of the motifs can greatly increase ones joy and admiration of owning a Kilim.

I thought I would share some of the motifs and their meanings according to people who have made their life’s work studying this art and its ethnographic history.

Fetter: (used as a Horse or camel cuff) When woven, used to symbolise family unity and staying together.

Wolf print/mouth: Protection from wolves/wild animals.  Understandable given the damage that a wolf could do to the nomadic tribes flock and hence entire lifestyle.

‘Wolf print/mouth’ motif an a naturally dyed antique Cal Kilim (#068)

Earring: Desire to marry.  Earrings and other gold items were and still are a common and desirable wedding gift.

Hair band: Desire to marry.  Hair bands form an important ornamental decoration during the wedding ceremony.

‘Earring’ & ‘hair band’ motifs on ends of Old Fethiye Runner (#88)

Chest: Desire to marry.  A young brides dowry and belongings often packed into the chests and transported for her new marriage.

‘Sandik’ or ‘chest’ motif covering entire main field of an antique Fethiye Runner (#M9)

Ram’s horns: Fertility, heroism, power and masculinity.  I have also seen it referred to as ‘leadership’ in relation to Kurdish kilims.

Prominent ‘rams horn’ motif on an old Konya cicim kilim (#142)

Elinbelinde (hands on hips): Female strength, fertility, motherhood. This is one of the oldest Anatolian motifs and a source of great interest to those that subscribe to the ‘Mother Goddess’ theory regarding the origin of Anatolian kilims.

Interlocking and repeating ‘hands on hips’ motif covering the entire main field of this Denizli cicim kilim (#046)

Scorpion: Protection.  It is not unique to Anatolian tribes to use the object’s image that will provide protection from it.

Çapraz (S motif):  Said to act as a talisman, protection.  An extremely common motif in Anatolian kilims, sometimes described as a ‘hook’ motif or ‘s’ motif.

Random filler motifs of ‘Capraz’ (hooked shape/s on a Daskiri Runner (#M15)

Nazar (evil eye): Protection.  With history dating back to Mesopotamia, Anatolian people certainly do not have a monopoly on the evil eye.  It is said to provide protection against people’s jealousies and ill wishes.

‘Nazar’ motif on an antique Usak Esme kilim (#115)

Burdock (thorn):  Thought to provide protection and also for ‘abundance’.

Variations of the motifs is common and wide-spread; different areas and the passage of time has resulted in diffferent formed motifs being used throughout Anatolia.

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