Text and images excerpt from the catalog “Old crafts in Serbia”
Author: Marina Cvetković
SMOOTH-SURFACE “KLECANJE” WITH “GUZENKA”
“Oh, hero my hero,
Where were you last night?
I quietly floated
And comforted half of the world.”
(Riddle – Sun)
The kilim making represents the most significant segment of the textile creativity in Serbia.
The word kilim itself means a wool carpet with a hemp, cotton or wool warp, made mostly with the smooth-surface technique – “klecanje” (bound weaving). The kilim was used to cover beds, sofas, walls and to a lesser extent as a floor covering, as well as a drape, table cloth … It represented a highly valued part of decorative interior textiles. The kilim also had an important role in social life. Thus, it was the most luxurious part of the dowry in the wedding rituals, and it was used as a valuable gift as well as for the decoration of horses, houses, tents … As for the customs related to death, it was used in burials. Thus, the marital partners were often buried each with a half of the same carpet. The kilim was donated to the church – for well-being of the living or in memory of the dead. In the late 19th and early 20th century, kilims were often used in public political events and this is where they took on the meaning of national symbols. The kilim was often given as a gift to senior statesmen and prominent individuals.
In the past, kilims were produced exclusively by women for their own households. They differed in terms of art, functional and technical specifications -from solid-colored, made of natural color wool, to complex, polychrome compositions made from the best wool with delicate techniques. In the 19th century, the craft production of kilims commenced, thus expanding the market for such wool fabrics. Women wove kilims for customers or merchants who provided the required woolen yarn. With the help of middlemen and a network of dealers, items were offered at the domestic and broader foreign markets.
The most significant kilim-making center in Serbia was located in Pirot. The kilim making constituted the most important business activity in this city in the latter part of the 19th century, and partly in the 20th century. Up to two thirds of working-age women participated in the production of kilims. These textiles were not produced in specialized workshops, but within certain households. The kilims, depending on the size, were woven by two to ten kilim-makers in a synchronized way on vertical looms set in the courtyard under the eaves or other places suitable for work. These textiles were made from fine, thin, and evenly spun wool, which was until the eighties of 19th century processed exclusively in the local arts and crafts, and later in specialized spinning mills. A woolen thread was pile, soft, shiny and elastic. The warp was made by spinning the longest wool fibers that were then respun or doubled. The quality of the final product– kilim – depended on the quality of the warp.
Wool was dyed by dyers, who, until the end of the 19th century, used herbal raw materials to produce dyes. To accomplish that, they used roots, leaves and fruits of plants: kermes (Cochineal) brazilin (brazilwood), turmeric (Curcuma longa), madder (Rubia tinctorum) and indigo (Isatis tinctoria). During the dyeing process, necessary acids, bases or metals were added. Colors obtained in such a fashion were red, maroon, coffee color, sour cherry red, indigo blue, light blue, and dark blue. The colors were consistent and soft. Dyers introduced aniline dyes at the end of the century.
Kilims were woven on vertical looms with the “klecanje” technique, undoubtedly the most beautiful and most perfect smooth-surface technique. “Klecanje” is performed with weft coiled up with fingers in the so-called bundles or “guzenke”, as called in Pirot. They come in as many colors as needed to carry out the patterns.
Dexterity of fingers pulling warp yarns through which the weft of the appropriate color is inserted and then proceed with a differently colored bundle, is very important for the weaving. The pattern is compressed with “tupica”, a wooden comb. The shed is obtained on the vertical loom by means of “obnitelnik”, a wooden stick. If the ornament is carried out in the direction of the warp, the so-called “resme”, slits, appear. If the pattern is set at an oblique angle, diagonally crossing the warp, the holes are imperceptible.
A wide variety of geometric patterns includes numerous variations of stylized representations of a tree of life with fruits, birds, then “mihrabs” (niches), “sofras”, (dining tables), etc.
Kilim-makers worked on commission, and their goods were usually offered in the market through middlemen and networks of merchants. The first commercial companiesspecializing in the sale of kilims were established in Pirot in the latter part of the 19th century. Under the influence of the Pirot kilim-making, the production of kilims also commenced in Knjazevac and other centers in Serbia. In the 20th century, kilims were also made on vertical looms in Sjenica, Nova Varos, Prijepolje, etc.
In the 19th century, kilims were also made in an organized fashion in some places in Vojvodina. These were offered in the German and Austria-Hungarian markets, and even beyond. These kilims, whose visual effects often reflected the influence of Western styles, were produced on a technically improved, broad horizontal loom. The most important kilim-making centers in Vojvodina were: Stapar, Kumane, Melenci, Elemir, Taras, Veliki Beckerek, etc.
Although kilims represented a status symbol, adorned courts of the Obrenovic and Karadjordjevic dynasties, and shared the same place in urban households with the famous Oriental rugs in the 19th and the early part of the 20th century, decades of modern design and artificial materials superseded them. The fact that during World War Two, occupiers confiscated thousands of the Pirot kilims from apartments in Belgrade only that may still adorn the German homes testifies to their value. Observation of the modern interior design trends in the world points to the possibility that the rugs may again have the important place in our homes bringing warmth and color into the coldness of our apartments that abound with metal and glass.
After weaving, the cloth was treated in fulling-mills, thus making the textile structure more compact and suitable for protection from the cold. The four-filament flax or hemp cloth was used for production of straw mattresses, back sides of pillows, bags, etc.
Diversity of traditional weaving techniques and textile handicrafts of various functional and visual characteristics points to the old Serbian weaving tradition, created and enriched over the centuries, that can now serve as a model for the modern-day weaving creativity.
Traditional weaving techniques have survived despite the modern ways of production. Weaving on horizontal and vertical looms is transmitted from generation to generation, but it is increasingly becoming part of the complementary education of the general population, too. Hand woven shawls, bed covers, curtains and other textiles are part of well-designed modern spaces, and clothing made from hand-woven fabrics inspired by traditional motifs are often part of exclusive collections of many fashion designers. Generations of weaving course-takers have become well-known fabrics manufacturers, and numerous associations of weavers sell their products to recognized retail chains.