in bright colours, with intricate patterns



In the delta and in Upper Egypt (the South) you can find lovely hand-woven woolen carpets called Kilim (pronounced Kileem). They are hand made on lovely old wooden looms and begin literally from the wool on the back of a sheep, ideally a fat tailed one!


The first evidence of these carpets of the slit-weave variety were thought to be from around 1000 BC in Egypt. Some propose that it came there from Syria as early as 7th century BC.


The process begins with the farmers, who shear their sheep and then bring the wool into “town” to be sold. The pool is collected, cleaned and then processed into “thread” as it is called here. These threads are then washed, dried and colored, and then wound over large “bobbins”. At this point the transformation begins.


In many of a small room, with little light or ventilation, you will find 2 -4 older men, working side by side, skeins of wool hanging from hooks and beams all around them, bags of wool or bits of wool all over the floor, and the wonderful wooden clunk and creak of a working loom. Their aging, wise hands fly instinctively back and forward across the interlocking threads in front of them, while their feet regularly change “gear” under the loom. They make it look incredibly effortless, and the pattern they are producing just appears to grow like a miracle on the loom in front of them.

But do not be deceived: working these old looms requires much concentration and many years of experience!


Traditionally there were 2 types of Kilim:

  1. Folk (where the patterns were of nature or geometrical design)
  2. Super (which is of a much higher quality, more expensive and required the skill of the expert weaver. These could even be with silk thread and massive portraits!)


  • A loom: this could be either a fixed vertical loom (used by sedentary people – in villages) or the easily movable horizontal loom (used by nomads). The loom holds the longitudinal threads (warps) and the horizontal threads (wefts) and weaves them together creating a flat-weave. No knotting in these mats
  • A beating comb: this is a large strong version of a hair comb! It is made from wood, metal or bone and is used to compress the new line of thread into the previous one, so that a tightly woven pattern is formed
  • A Shuttle: this is what the weft (horizontal thread) is placed in, and then inserted between alternate warps (longitudinal thread). It is passed at speed (by the experts) backwards and forwards with incredible precision
  • A knife/pair of scissors: to cut and trim the thread
  • Wool: or cotton / silk / goat hair / camel hair


The weft strands carry the design/colour. Though made for daily use, the Kilim carpets have beautiful patterns, motifs and designs on them. Most have a geometric pattern, which is commonly used in artwork in the Muslim world, and some have simple pictures on them. It is said that many a maiden has poured her heart-story into the mat she has been weaving! Depending on the colour, design, patterns and motifs a person wise to the society and community could read it almost like a book!


Traditionally this carpet is made for use: a functional carpet, not simply commercial! It can be used:

  • hung on the wall as a decoration
  • thrown over a simple bed as a cover
  • on the floor as a rug/mat
  • over the table as a tablecloth
  • on the ground as a “picnic” rug
  • as a prayer mat


Sadly, the craft, skill and art of traditional Kilim making is slowly dying. The market has suffered greatly with the cheaper and more “fashionable” mats made overseas. Local demand has reduced and international demand is very low.

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