Kilim motifs

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Detail of a Turkish kilim, illustrating usage of several motifs including Eye, Hook, and Star. The central gul (octagonal medallion) consists of a (stepped) dragon or scorpion motif around a large star.

Many motifs are used in kilims, each with many variations. In Turkish Anatolia in particular, tribal women wove themes significant for their lives into their rugs, whether before marriage or during married life. Some motifs represent desires, such as for happiness and children; others, for protection against threats such as wolves (to the flocks) and scorpions, or against the evil eye. These motifs were often combined when woven into patterns on kilims.


Tree of Life (Hayat Aǧacı, top and bottom of image) symbolizes the desire for immortality. Each Tree of Life symbol here contains at its centre an Earring (Küpe) motif, a wedding present symbolizing the desire for marriage.

A Turkish kilim is a flat-woven rug from Anatolia. Although the name kilim is sometimes used loosely in the West to include all type of rug such as cicim, palaz, soumak and zili, in fact any type other than pile carpets, the name kilim properly denotes a specific weaving technique. Cicim, palaz, soumak and zili are made using three groups of threads, namely longitudinal warps, crossing wefts, and wrapping coloured threads. The wrapping threads give these rugs additional thickness and strength. Kilim in contrast are woven flat, using only warp and weft threads. Kilim patterns are created by winding the weft threads, which are coloured, backwards and forwards around pairs of warp threads, leaving the resulting weave completely flat. Kilim are therefore called flatweave or flatware rugs.[1]

Diagram of Kilim slit weave technique, showing how the weft threads of each color are wound back from the color boundary, leaving a slit

To create a sharp pattern, weavers usually end each pattern element at a particular thread, winding the coloured weft threads back around the same warps, leaving a narrow gap or slit. These are prized by collectors for the crispness of their decoration. The motifs on kilims woven in this way are constrained to be somewhat angular and geometric.[2]

In tribal societies, kilim were woven by women at different stages of their lives: before marriage, in readiness for married life; while married, for her children; and finally, kilim for her own funeral, to be given to the mosque. Kilims thus had strong personal and social significance, being made for personal and family use. Feelings of happiness or sorrow, hopes and fears were expressed in the weaving motifs. Many of these represent familiar household and personal objects, such as a hairband, a comb, an earring, a trousseau chest, a jug, a hook.[1][3]


Detail of vegetable-dyed Konya Kilim, numbered to identify motifs:

  1) Eye (Göz) / Evil Eye (Nazarlık)
  2) Eye, containing Cross (Haç)
  3) Ram's Horn (Koçboynuzu)
  4) Fertility (Bereket)
  5) Wolf's Mouth (Kurt İzi)
  6) Star (Yıldız), containing Love and Unison (Aşk ve Birleşim)
  7) Star, containing Fetter (Bukaǧı)

The meanings expressed in kilims derive both from the individual motifs used, and by their pattern and arrangement in the rug as a whole.[3] A few symbols are widespread across Anatolia as well as other regions including Persia and the Caucasus; others are confined to Anatolia.[4]

An especially widely used motif is the elibelinde, a stylized female figure, motherhood and fertility.[5][6]

Other motifs express the tribal weavers' desires for protection of their families' flocks from wolves with the wolf's mouth or the wolf's foot motif (Turkish: Kurt Aǧzi, Kurt İzi), or for safety from the sting of the scorpion (Turkish: Akrep).[1] Several protective motifs, such as those for the dragon (Turkish: Ejder), scorpion, and spider (sometimes called the crab or tortoise by carpet specialists) share the same basic diamond shape with a hooked or stepped boundary, often making them very difficult to distinguish.[4][7]

Several motifs hope for the safety of the weaver's family from the evil eye (Turkish: Nazarlık, also used as a motif), which could be divided into four with a cross symbol (Turkish: Haç), or averted with the symbol of a hook (Turkish: Çengel), a human eye (Turkish: Göz), or an amulet (Turkish: Muska; often, a triangular package containing a sacred verse).[1][8] The carpet expert Jon Thompson explains that such an amulet woven into a rug is not a theme: it actually is an amulet, conferring protection by its presence. In his words, "the device in the rug has a materiality, it generates a field of force able to interact with other unseen forces and is not merely an intellectual abstraction."[9]

Other motifs symbolised fertility, as with the trousseau chest motif (Turkish: Sandıklı), or the explicit fertility (Turkish: Bereket) motif. The motif for running water (Turkish: Su Yolu) similarly depicts the resource literally.[1]

The desire to tie a family or lovers together could be depicted with a fetter motif (Turkish: Bukaǧı). Similarly, a tombstone motif may indicate not simply death, but the desire to die rather than to part from the beloved.[1]

Several motifs represented the desire for good luck and happiness, as for instance the bird (Turkish: Kuş) and the star or Solomon's seal (Turkish: Yıldız). The oriental symbol of Yin/Yang is used for love and unison (Turkish: Aşk ve Birleşim).[1]

Among the motifs used late in life, the Tree of Life (Turkish: Hayat Aǧacı) symbolizes the desire for immortality. Many of the plants used to represent the Tree of Life can also be seen as symbols of fruitfulness, fertility, and abundance. Thus the pomegranate, a tree whose fruits carry many seeds, implies the desire for many children.[1]

Symbols are often combined, as when the feminine elibelinde and the masculine ram's horn are each drawn twice, overlapping at the centre, forming a figure (some variants of the Bereket or fertility motif[4]) of the sacred union of the principles of the sexes.[10]


All the motifs can vary considerably in appearance according to the weaver. Colours, sizes and shapes can all be chosen according to taste and the tradition in a given village or tribe; further, motifs are often combined, as illustrated in the photographs above.[1] To give some idea of this variability, a few alternative forms are shown in the table.

Kilim motifs and their meanings
Name Turkish Motif Purpose Object Notes
Hands-on-hips Elibelinde Elibelinde2.jpg Motherhood
Marriage principle (4 examples)[1]
Cross Haç Cross Kilim Motif.jpg Protection Evil eye to divide the evil eye into four
(2 examples)[1]
Hook Çengel Hook Kilim Motif.jpg Protection Evil eye to destroy the evil eye[1]
Eye Göz Eye Kilim Motif.jpg Protection Evil eye to ward off the evil eye
(3 examples)[1]
Comb Tarak Comb Kilim Motif.jpg Protection Birth,
(2 examples)[1]
Running water Su Yolu Running Water Kilim Motif.jpg Fresh water Life very important in tribal life
(3 examples)[1]
Fertility Bereket Fertility Kilim Motif.jpg Fertility Marriage Combines Hands-on-hips, Ram's horn
(2 examples)[1]
Ram's horn Koçboynuzu Ram's Horn Kilim Motif.jpg Fertility,
Marriage principle (2 examples)[1]
Star Yıldız Star Kilim Motif.jpg Fertility,
Marriage Solomon's seal[1]
Love and Unison Aşk ve Birleşim Love and Unison Kilim Motif.jpg Love and harmony Marriage Derived from Oriental
Yin/Yang motif Taijitu - Small (CW).svg[1]
Amulet Muska Amulet Kilim Motif.jpg Protection
Evil eye Contained a verse of scripture
(3 examples)[1]
Bird Kuş Bird Kilim Motif, for luck and happiness, etc.jpg Luck,
Life Owl and raven signify bad luck;
pigeon and nightingale, good luck.
Also souls of the dead; expectation of news.
(2 examples)[1][11]
Fetter Bukaǧı Fetter Kilim Motif.jpg Union Marriage To tie family or lovers together.
The fetter tied front and hind legs of a goat.[1]
Trousseau chest Sandıklı Trousseau Chest Kilim Motif.jpg Marriage,
Marriage Unmarried women prepared dowry in a chest.[1]
Earring Küpe Earring Kilim Motif.jpg Marriage - A common wedding present[1]
Wolf's Mouth
Wolf's Track
Kurt Aǧzi
Kurt İzi
Wolf's Mouth Kilim Motif.jpg Protection of the flocks Wolves (2 examples)[1]
Scorpion Akrep Scorpion kilim motif.jpg Protection Scorpions (2 examples)[1] Similar motifs are used for other
animals such as Spider, Crab and Dragon.[4][7]
Dragon Ejder Dragon Kilim Motif.jpg Protection? - Dragon is "master of air and water",[1]
cause of lunar eclipse, guard of treasure.
(4 examples)[1]
Tree of life Hayat Aǧacı Tree of Life Kilim Motif.jpg Immortality - Many different plants may be represented,
e.g. beech, cypress, fig, oak,
olive, palm, pomegranate, vine[1]
Burdock Pitrak Burdock Kilim Motifs.jpg Protection,
Evil eye Plant is used to ward off evil eye.
With many flowers, it symbolizes abundance.[1]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 1.22 1.23 1.24 1.25 1.26 1.27 1.28 1.29 Erbek, Güran (1998). Kilim Catalogue No. 1. May Selçuk A. S. Edition=1st. pp. 4–30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Davies, Peter (2000). Antique kilims of Anatolia. W.W. Norton & Co. ISBN 978-0-393-73047-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Taskiran, Nurdan. "Reading Motifs on Kilims: A Semiological Approach to Symbolic Meaning" (PDF). Retrieved 22 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 "Carpet Motifs: A Beginner's Guide". Arastan. 9 May 2012. Retrieved 22 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Hands on Hips - Elibelinde". Retrieved 24 February 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Unal, Sahika (August 2009). "Symbolic Meanings and Characteristics of Anatolian Kilims" (PDF). Retrieved 22 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 Anquetil, Jacques (2003). Carpets Techniques Traditions and History. Hachette. pp. 40–43. ISBN 978-1-844-30012-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Kilim Motifs". Retrieved 22 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Thompson, Jon (1988). Carpets from the Tents, Cottages and Workshops of Asia. Barrie & Jenkins. p. 156. ISBN 0-7126-2501-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Özyurt, Üzeyir. "The Language of Kilim of Anatolia" (PDF). Dervish Brothers. Retrieved 22 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Bird - Kus". Retrieved 23 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

See also

External links