Turkish kilims: The complete process series – WOOL


The complete process series – WOOL


A very large part of the reason why Anatolian kilims last as long as they do is because of the wool.  You have original high quality wool which from its beginning to its last process;  retains its natural lanolin qualities. This is such an integral part of Turkish kilims so I thought an in depth look at this element would be beneficial.


Wool and nomads have a history intertwined and shaped by each other.  The herds need to be constantly grazing in year round pastures made the nomadic lifestyle an obviously path.  From these herds the nomads made virtually all living accessories including their homes in the form of yurts (tents), kilims, camel bags, sitting bags, saddles, harnesses, blankets, shawls, socks…. and from making these items themselves; a cultural outlet of brilliance and creativity in their distinct colours, motifs and designs; which ultimately led to it being the primary source of visual tribal identity.


I can remember seeing my first sheep in Turkey and was initially quite perplexed  by the fat dangling bulbous tails.  How weird I thought.  Our sheep in Australia are not like that! It was after a quick google I discovered that in actual fact it was the Turks sheep which were in their natural state and us Aussies who were docking the tails of our sheep. 


So how do we get from this:


To one of these:



Firstly the sheep and fleece; there are over 22 varieties of sheep that graze the pastures of Turkey.  Caring for and expertly cutting the fleece from the sheep was usually the sole domain of the men.  Once separated from the sheep the fleece is usually the responsibly of the women’s side (except for the spinning of the wool in some groups). 

In terms of the fleece there are variations within breeds and within the herds that produce the best wool.  It was in the nomads’ best interest to know which of their herd produce the best wool for which purpose.  The best wool comes from:

1st – wethers and castrated males

2nd – ewes

3rd – intact males (least valuable)


In addition to this; the area of the sheep from where the wool is cut also has grades in terms of quality.  The neck, shoulders and back produce the finest wools and are the parts chosen for spinning.  Whilst the tail, belly and legs wool is inferior and more typically used for felt making.

And just to throw another condition into the mix, the first clipping of the season produces better wool than the second.



The women sort the fleece into piles depending on what the wool will be used for. Weaving, knitting, felting etc.   A further sorting can be undertaken to sorting wefts, warps and piles.  This hand sorting process is the fundamental explanation of why Anatolian nomadic rugs are made to such a high standard.  A women choosing and sorting her wool for her own personal dowry piece is going to be much more discerning about her collection of fleece.  She is representing herself and her skills.  She will choose the best.  Mixing inferior fleece with quality fleece at this stage compromises the final result.



So once we have this mass of sorted fleece and dirt and twigs it is time to wash it. The ample presence of running streams throughout Turkey is the perfect cleaning space.  Washed and dried it is time for the next step; carding or combing.



Combing and carding are similar processes but the different resulting wool is more desirable in certain items.  In kilims, combing is more desirable as the wool fibres become aligned with each other and after spinning create flatter wool and kilims with clearer designs and luminous colours.  Carding would produce fluffier wool more convenient to jumpers and socks. 




From the Bronze Age to present day, ancient civilisations to western nations women have been spinning yarn and wool in much the same why (until recently).  Anatolian nomads favoured the drop-spindle. The natural inclination of the wool fibres to stretch and mend together is exploited allowing the spinner to hand feed the combed fleece through to the spindle.  Now at this point I could go on for another page about the variations in spindles, z spin or s spin, which spinning creates certain wool for a particular purpose but lets face it.  At this point I am already amazed at the work required and attention to detail shown by the weavers and I don’t think I would do the topic justice. 


     Our next part in the series will be looking at the loom.



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