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The flatweaves are coming!

The day of the flatweave has arrived. It had to come. Flatweaves have been in the doldrums for years and anyone with an eye for a bargain has been able to snap up superb examples for the proverbial song. David Black's recent exhibition in London has shown that the bargain hunter will have to search with extra diligence in the future.

``Flatweave'' is the general term for those carpets, rugs, and related items which are more commonly known as kilims and, in India, dhurries. The warp and the weft alone comprise the structure of the fabric. The surface of the kilim is flat with no pile provided by rows of knots. The weaving process of Oriental knotted carpets is long and laborious, and fine quality examples have been popular and highly prized by collectors for centuries. The flatweaves, on the other hand, are easily and quickly woven, and have generally been regarded as suitable for humble domestic use.

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Flatweaving is probably as old as any form of weaving. Most surviving examples are seldom more than a century old. But age need not be too significant a factor for many collectors since (together with the current revival of interest in flatweaves) old techniques of dyeing and weaving and traditional designs have come back in vogue.

Flatweaves, of course, are common all over the world, displaying endless varieties of local characteristics. Oriental kilims are probably the most well-known group of flatweaves and are woven in the Near East - Persia, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Turkey. The designs are usually starkly geometric and executed in brilliant colors. This large group of flatweaves vary in quality from the simplest horizontal and diagonal designs to ones of great complexity. Fine quality Oriental kilims have been rising in value for some years and are no longer regarded as inferior to knotted carpets from the same area.

A smaller and less well-known group of kilims are the Bessarabian kilims from Eastern Europe and the Balkans, especially from Romania. The position of this region, between East and West, has had a marked effect on the design and construction of these flatweaves. Bessarabian kilims are usually woven with floral designs, large clumps of flowers in soft colors, often akin to Victorian needlework. Other design elements are less natural and owe more to the Oriental influence. For many years this ambivalence caused them to be overlooked by collectors of both Oriental and occidental carpets. They were thought to be neither one thing nor another, and changed hands for far less than many other types of carpet. They are highly decorative and have been popular among interior decorators for years, but their recognition by serious collectors is more recent.

Less well-known in the West are Indian dhurries, which differ from other flatweaves in that they are cotton. They have been a traditional floor covering in India for centuries, but like the Oriental kilims, few early examples have survived. Their designs also vary from simple geometrics to complex florals.

While the substantial prices in the London exhibition reflect the new recognition of flatweaves at the top end of the market, there may be many attractive, if not important, pieces about for more modest prices. The simple directness of both color and design of the kilims and dhurries make them most suitable for floors, walls, and coverings in a modern home.

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