Penny and Tim Hays on Manastir Prayer Kilims

On September 10, 2011,  Penny and Tim Hays,

gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program, here in The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., on the topic “Manastir Kilims In The Balkan Weaving Context”

They have collected textiles since the 1980’s and are active in the Washington, DC rug community.  Both Penny and Tim are long-time Federal professionals (Departments of State and Defense) with extensive experience overseas.  A posting to Berlin provided them with an opportunity to explore an interest they have in Balkan textiles.  They have traveled in the area of their collecting interest have have addition research-type trips planned.  They are serious students of their collecting interest areas.

They began with a lecture featuring projected images and I’ll just provide you a link to it, without attempting to replicate Tim’s  accompanying comments.

Here is the link:

Manastir Kilim Talk v4

Hold down the “Control” key and left click on this link.  When you do a screen will appear asking you either to “Open in a new window” or “Save.  Choose “Open in a new window” and click OK.

You will come up in the title slide for the lecture. Click “Slideshow”  and then “View Show” at the top to get rid of the small images on the left.  You can move to the next slide by pressing the arrowhead key on your keyboard that is pointed down.

There are 23 slides in the Powerpoint sequence.  When you have finished reading the last one, you can return to this page by clicking the “exit” tab in the top center of the screen. You may encounter some additional small screens, but just click the red “x” on them as well.

Tim and Penny now took us to the pieces in the room. 

Note:  The “person” will change in the following text as the description moves from John’s reporting to comments made directly by Penny and Tim.  We have not troubled to mark the latter with quotation marks.

In this presentation, they tried to illustrate how Manastir kilims fit into the Balkan weaving tradition or context.  Although most of the Manastir kilims they treated were of the so-called “prayer,” design format they illustrated several other types.  They began with some counter examples: textiles woven in some of the areas from which Manastir kilims came as well, but which are very different affairs.

The first of these was the large, striped blanket below.


Comment on M1:  Soldiers, in areas where the Manastir kilims were woven, were required when they reported for duty, to bring some particular items of equipment.  One of the items they were required to provide was a sleeping blanket. This type of blanket was produced by a group called the Pomaks.  The kilim blanket is constructed of wool which was woven in long strips, sewn together, and then semi-felted.  It is quite heavy, repels water, and is very warm in use.

Here are some closer details of this piece.


The pink tuft was almost certainly a identification mark for the soldier to find his bedding from among all those carried in the unit baggage train. Its possible the number 83 was a vakif number (a donation ID number) from a Bulgarian mosque. There is another such piece in our collection, with a different color scheme and with a similar tag attached. Most of the 15 or so such Pomak kilim blankets we have examined have such tags or other ID marks.


As previously mentioned, this blanket was produced by the Pomak people of Bulgaria.  Pomaks are a group which was originally orthodox Christian but who converted to Islam during the period of Ottoman control of the Balkans. There are other opinions as to their origin which hold the Pomaks were the original inhabitants of Bulgaria prior to the coming of the Slavs and included groups of Cumman and Kipchak nomads.

Today there are Pomak minorities in Bulgaria, Northern Greece, Macedonia, and Western Turkey. 

A second, counter example was the rather urban-looking piece below.


This is a relatively finely woven kilim from Bosnia. Its most likely from the period between 1878 and 1908 when Bosnia was administered by Austria-Hungary, but nominally part of the Ottoman Empire. During the period of Austro-Hungarian administration (before Bosnia was annexed by Austria-Hungary in 1908) the Bosnian weaving industry was reorganized to better serve the needs of the Austrian and European market , rather than for domestic use in Bosnia.  This piece with its mix or natural and synthetic dyes probably served as a curtain or divan /bench cover.

Here are some detail images of B2.


The images of this piece show a color scheme pleasing to European taste and which combine Balkan and Anatolian design motifs. This example is a bit battered, but we use it  as a example of the diversity of weaving styles in the Balkans in the late-19th and early-20th Centuries.

Now we’ll move to the Manastir kilims of our session topic.

The first of these was the one below.


(numbers are not always sequential)

Although not a Manastir kilim, this ‘Sarkoy’ piece, from the area just north of Chiprovtsy, Bulgaria, is a good rural example of the very fine weaving characteristic of the Western Bulgarian/Sarkoy group. The piece has a very attractive green and red color scheme in slit and tapestry weave and areas of eccentric wefts. The fringe is goat hair and was added after the kilim was woven. Although the kilim design includes five tuerbe or tombs and multiple tree-of-life motifs, it was likely woven in a village north of Chiprovtsy in the Balkan Mountains by a population of mixed religious practice (Orthodox Christians and Muslims) for the Ottoman or home market. The border designs are pure Bulgarian Sarkoy. This piece can be dated to about 1850-1860.

Here are some detail images of various aspects of M4:





The kilim also makes good use of green and  blue.  Its overall impression is quite pleasing.

Penny took us to the next piece.

Here is a complete image of it.


This rather wild looking  kilim, made in two pieces is from the Vojvodina, what is today Northern Serbia, but that at the time, was part of the Kingdom of Hungary. It is similar to kilims made just to the east in the Romanian Banat.  The weavers were Serbian Orthodox Christians who came to this area from Kosovo in the early -mid 19th Century. This piece dates from the 1860-1875 period.  Colors appear to be natural although the design is an impressionistic mix of European and Anatolian components.

Here are some details of M5:







The green in this kilim is typical of the Balkans and the use of yellow indicates a non-Bulgarian, Christian origin.  Orthodox Bulgarian folk art does not make use of yellow as that color is traditionally culturally associated with sickness or bad luck.  Serbian Orthodox Christians and Bulgarian Muslims are not so constrained.

The weaving technique here is tapestry, slit tapestry and some eccentric wefts.

The next piece was the one below.


Comment on M6: This is Manastir kilim of considerable visual power. The composition, with five borders at its upper and lower ends,  has a definite Anatolian feel. There are no obvious Sarkoy motifs in the field, however, the color scheme suggests a Balkan origin.  Because of these conflicting visual indicators, this kilim is a good candidate for dye testing to better define where it originated.  The dimensions are also slightly larger than normal for prayer format kilims of this group.

Here are some detail images of this piece:



Comments on details of M6: In this piece, The yellow, blue, and red dyes are very saturated. The fine tendrils extending from the sides of the prayer arch are unusual. The inverted red triangle which reflects the apex of the prayer arch is sometimes seen in Manastir kilims of this type.  It may be an element in the design repertoire of Manastir weavings from a specific locale that we do not fully understand.

The next piece was nearly square:


Comment on M7: This is Pirot kilim table cover from Southern Serbia. I believe this piece is from the 4th quarter of the 19th century, after the production of the Pirot weaving industry shifted its focus from the Turkish to the European market. The piece is very finely woven and well executed. The overall feel is European and to us appears similar to  period patchwork quilts.

Here are some detail images of this piece.




Comments on details of M7: The outer most guard border with its three-dimnsional block pattern is absolutely indicative of its Serbian Pirot origin. The pastel-ish treatment of the color scheme is further indication this is late 19th/early 29th Century production. The overall design of this table cover is known as the ‘Jerusalem Pattern’ and was very popular in the region.

The next piece had a “tree of life” design in its field.


Comment on M8: This is a more traditional Pirot or Sarkoy design with its tree-of-life, vegetal, and floral motifs. The red color field is probably cochineal or another insect-based dye. Again this piece is very finely woven with much use of eccentric wefts and slit tapestry. The leaf fronds in the out border are a good indication of its origin in Pirot. The square cartouche at the base of the tree of life is not an identifiably Islamic motif and we believe it is a ‘trademark’ for the weaving atelier that made this piece. We plan to visit the Ethnographic Museum and the Museum of Applied Arts in Belgrade in Fall 2012 as part of a Balkan weaving research trip. Perhaps we can identify the specific workshop which produced this piece from their records.

Here are some details of this kilim.





The next kilim had a classic Manastir look.


Comments on details of M9: Obviously this is a Manastir yastik of a type made in both Bulgaria and Anatolia by the re-migrant Turks. This piece has cotton warps and it is the type of Manastir weaving most commonly seen by dealers and collectors. This type is usually ascribed to Western Anatolia, but the cotton warps make one wonder if it might not have its origin in Bulgaria.

Detail images of aspects of M9.




Comments on details of M9: Very fine slit weave and brocaded horizontal lines are also typical of the Manastir genre.

The next kilim was the piece below.


Comment on M10:  I think we can feel comfortable with attributing this somewhat battered Manastir yastik to Western Anatolia as suggested by its dye scheme.

Here are some detail images of this piece.





Here is the next piece shown.


Comment on M11: This is a larger type of manastir kilim of a type which we have identified as being used as women’s prayer mats. This is a mid-2oth Century piece with chemical dyes but with a traditional design and weave.  The piece uses tapestry, slit tapestry and brocading.  

Kilims of this type were in use in the women’s section of the principal mosque in Razgrad Bulgaria in 2005. There were no kilims in the men’s section of the mosque and its likely any pieces from there were sold or stolen in the 1980’s.  According to a local informant the women of the mosque prevented the mosque administration from removing the pieces in their section.

This particular piece was obtained from a dealer in Varna Bulgaria.  

Details of this piece.



Comments on details of M11: This type of kilim is well documented in the book ‘Bulgarian Rugs and Kilims; by Dimiter Stankov (1968).  Stankov’s volume illustrates two such pieces and attributes them to the Razgrad-Shumen area of NE Bulgaria.

The next piece was this one.


Comment on M12:  Compare the edge of both sides of the red field in this place.  Their differences suggest that it was woven by two different weavers.  Some see this difference as obvious lack of skill of the weaver on the left, but this assessment depends on prior rules stating  that 1) both sides should be alike,  and 2) that the more regular one is the desired version, something that is quite often not the case with similar design devices.

Here are some closer details of M12.




Comments on details of M12: The assignment of this long kilim to the Manstir group is speculative and based largely on its color scheme. Some have suggested it is a piece made in the Konya area before 1850. We particularly like the abrashed red in the central field which we believe looks like flowing lava.

This kilim now hangs in our living room where we can enjoy its mystery and stark beauty every day. The  scattered S and reverse S motifs in the field give the piece a sense of directionality which we have arbitrarily assigned to the up direction.

The next piece was another large “blanket” or cover format.


This is a large piece.  It laps over the top of the board, and as you can see continues on the right side. The color scheme is particularly attractive.  We credit a Washington collector-friend for alerting us to the presence of this blanket kilim on the US market. It has proven to be one of our most enjoyable acquisitions and a nice addition which helps us document the full range of Manastir weaving.

Here are some details of it.






Comments on details of M13: Bulgarian weavers wove different sizes of kilim, including this very large blanket or cover format. The color scheme of this large piece suggests a origin among the Manastir weaving group. Its handle is surprisingly supple and a Viennese expert to whom we showed the piece speculated it might be as old as the mid-19th Century.  It is unknown exactly how these pieces were used in the homes of the Manastir weavers. The kilim has light brown warps which reinforces a Bulgarian/Balkan attribution.

The next piece moved back to the niche format kilim type.


Comment on M14: Although this piece does not demonstrate the traditional prayer arch or mihrab design, the orientation of the principal motifs does provide a sense of directionality. A collector friend once remarked they were very taken with the type of compartmented designs which this kilim has in abundance. Typical of many textile types showing Islamic influence, this piece has the four and one arrangement. This example has five yurts or tuerbe (tombs) as its primary device and each tuerbe is internally elaborated with arches or nazarlik devices.  Although the color selection and weave of this piece are Manastir, most of the motifs in the field originate with West Bulgarian or Sarkoy weavings. 

It is interesting to note that Manastir weavings often share motifs with the Sarkoy group; but, we know of no examples in which obviously Manastir elements made their way into the Sarkoy weaving vocabulary. Compare the design of this kilim with that of the Sarkoy/Chiprovtsy example (M4) which is clearly a Western Bulgarian  or Sarkoy manifestation of the same design idea.






Comments on M14 details: The use of yellow, blue and red reinforces our perception of a Balkan Manastir origin for this piece. This is reinforced by the presence of many Sarkoy motifs and the use of scattered instances of small amounts of  of ‘exotic’ colors. The tendrils extending from the five tuerbe or yurts recalls the tendrils seen in the kilim M6. These tendrils are thicker and more robust then those seen in M6. We assess this kilim is 3rd -4th Quarter 19th century.

The was the next piece.


Comment on M15: This is a Manastir kilim of the eye-dazzler or ‘su yolu’  (running water) design. This piece shows more muted colors and a fine supple weave indicative of earlier weavings. Per Stankov this type of kilim originated in east central Bulgaria. The blue, yellow and pale pinkish red are striking in this ezample. The piece is loades with protective motifs including the so called ‘hacilar cross’ design.

Here are detail images of some aspects of M15.




Comments on detail images of M15: Here the warps are white/beige wool and the upper and lower border are of the “interlocking hands” motif.

Here is the next piece in their sequence: an unusual niche design.


Comments on M16: The designs of many Manastir weavings are imbued with a strong protective sense and this is especially so in this next group of kilims.  The European collectors and dealers who first brought these textiles to light refer to them as sharing the ‘bauk’ or womb design.

In this example, the patterned groups of lines or fingers enveloping the empty or sparsely filled interior niche or womb-like field invoke the image of a woman’s protective instincts. It’s interesting to note the line or finger has a white tip. Other examples with red or carmine tips on the fingers are known from this group. Others with a stronger feel for the Anatolian origins of these designs, see them as examples of the feathered wing design.

Here are some details of this piece:





Comments on details of M16: The central void is filled with less frequently seen motifs in an essentially Balkan color scheme.  The scattered motifs have a flavor of both Anatolian and Sharkoy origins. The soft pinkish red field is one of the two colors always associated with the Manastir genre. The other is obviously the yellow seen in many previous examples. The blue in the various pictured devices appears to us to originate from woad rather than indigo.

Here is the next kilim shown.


Comment on M17: This is another example of the ‘bauk’ or womb motif kilim with a yellow central field.  It is hard to be sure if this kilim consists of a yellow ground framed in red or a red ground with a yellow central niche. Regardles,s the piece again demonstrates a strong protective effect with finger, wing ,  and comb motifs. (Cf. M16)

Details of M17.




Comments on details of M17: The blue, reds and blues seen in M17 indicate a definite Bulgarian origin and like M16 may date from the mid-19th century.  Again we believe the blue seen here originated from the woad plant and the yellow from weld.

The next piece was M18.  It is a modified version of the “bauk” design which has begun to evolve into a more standard, but elaborately enclosed, prayer arch format.  All the colors and form here are pure Manastir and the design is replete with small scatter motifs characteristic of the Pirot or West Bulgarian Sarkoy group.


Comments on M18: This is obviously a red ground kilim with a large yellow central reserve or niche.  Excellent use of woad blue in the outlining and in the small Sarkoy devices.  As in many other Manastir kilims and rugs the warp threads are tightly spun and brown wool. The vertical dimension of this piece a some others we relate to it is slightly extended.

Here are some details on aspects of M18.



Comments on details of M18: Lots of examples of blue Sarkoy arrowhead motifs and an interior border on the niche of very short runs of slit tapestry weave.

The next piece was the one below.


Comment on M19: M19 is a more typical prayer format kilim in typical red and yellow Manastri colors. The motifs are a mix of obviously Anatolian nazarlik, obviously Sarkoy arrowheads, and barely identifiable floral branches

Here is a closer corner of M19:


Comment on M19a: Its hard to tell if the upper and lower horizontal borders consist of three or five bands. Based upon the separations by brocaded bands we feel this is a three band construction and may be a unique subgroup. The yellow central field is slightly oatmeal in tone which may be evidence of fading due to washing.

Here is the next piece shown.


Comment on M20: This is an example of a small subgroup of Manastir kilims in which the central field is filled with triangular motifs. This particular piece with its central field of mountain ranges of triangles is pure landscape art. The kilim is packed with color from the red of the central field, the classic Balkan green of the outer border, to the multiple colors of the mountainous triangles, and is a visual challenge. This kilim has a strongly impressionistic feeling. 

Here are a few detail images of this piece.






Comments on details of M2o: This piece is another with three bands in its upper and lower borders, each band is separated by a strip of brocade.  This Manastir may have outside influences, as it has obvious spandrels at each corner, a very unusual feature for Manastir kilims. The close-ups demonstrate the riot of colors in this piece.

The next piece was this one.


Comment on M22: We selected this kilim for display because it shows one the great challenges of collecting Manastir kilims in particular and Balkan kilims in general. This piece is very heavily worn and would probably be classified as fragmentary. The central field is somewhat discolored and the yellow ground has a brownish cast due to soiling.

Most of the Manastir kilims in our collection have old repairs in the field and show staining and soiling when they come to market.  Experienced collectors and dealers who handle these textiles expect and are used to this. But some collectors find these conditions unacceptable.  This may help explain why this group of kilims is so poorly known to mainstream collectors.

Here are some details of this kilim.




Comments on details of M22: Pale blue nazarlik in the field and seven rows of borders at top and bottom make this otherwise  standard Manastir prayer kilim of special interest to the collector.

The next piece was the following one.


Comment on M23: This is the only blue ground kilim of the Manastir group of which we are aware. It was acquired from a Viennese collector who purchased it from a Muammar Kirdok kilim exhibition in 1985. The piece was published in a black and white photo in Hali magazine in that year. It remains one of the highlights of our collection

Details on aspects of M23.





Comments on details of M23: With its red-tipped hands of Fatima or bird wing motifs in the left and right borders, the red tipped comb teeth , the skeletal tree-of-life, and the semaphore flags, this kilim appears to be a one of a kind design. This is the first time it has been seen in color since its 1985 exhibition in Vienna. Based upon the unusual composition and color scheme we believe this is a Manastir piece with origins in Western Anatolia (possibly Balikesir) and was likely the product of re-emigrant Bulgarian Turks. It also has brown wool warps.

This was the next piece to be seen.


Comment on M24: This colorful kilim with its unique ‘flying’ motifs (though they are probably floral in origin) is another which has been published in Hali Magazine.

Here are some detail images of this piece.






Comments on details of M24: With its Manastir yellow field, triple horizontal border, and array of colorful and outlined motifs floating or flying in empty space; this kilim is one of the most appealing and visually exciting in the collection. We believe this is another mid-19th Century example with its origins in NE Bulgaria.  The ‘flying’motifs are likely evolved from similar floral Sarkoy models.

Tim held up the next piece.

Here it is a little closer.


Comment on M25: This is Manastir yastik brought in someone in the audience, its likely to be Anatolian in origin although the yellow ground  is quite good. Its probably the work of Bulgarian re-emigrants.

Here is an even closer detail of one corner.


Comment on M25a: Again, the brocading and slit weave construction are absolutely typical of this type.

The next piece was this one.


Comment on M26: This small, finely woven kilim originated in Western Bulgaria around the town of Chiprovtsy.  Its not a Manastir weaving , but rather a rural version of  Sarkoy design from 1860 or before. For obvious reasons, we refer to this piece as our “space alien” kilim, with its rows of floral designs (typical of the Western Bulgarian group). The alien head or floral motifs have no. one, or two appendages. We refer those with two appendages as the “alien chiefs.”

Here are some details images of aspects of this piece.




Comments on details of M26: Obviously collecting isn’t always as serious endeavor.

The next piece was the one below.


Comment on M27: This piece was brought in by the audience and after some discussion its was decided to be of recent Turkish production.

Some detail images of M27.




The next piece was the one that follows.


Comment on M28: This was another piece brought in by the audience. Its not a Balkan or Manastir piece, but another recent Turkish product.

Here are some details of aspects of M28.




For their last piece, Tim brought out a very large kilim.


Comment on M29: This large kilim is later production (probably 1920-25) and has quite nice Manastir colors and well executed weaving. It is not as coarsely woven as you might think. but its large size makes it hard to store and collect. It is mostly naturally dyed and is about  3M X 2M in size.

Here are some closer details of this large kilim.



Penny and Tim took questions,

and brought their program to a close. They said the goal of their presentation was to make people more aware of the Balkan weaving tradition and the quality and diversity of its production.

End of program audience behavior was as usual.

I thank Penny and Tim Hays for this interesting program, for their permission to have this virtual version of it composed, and for their extensive, concrete comments on the pieces in it.

Thanks also to Catherine Rich, who took a good set of notes for me.

A number of these pieces were treated in an earlier post on my other blog, Eccentric Wefts.  That post reported on a similar, but distinctive session by Erhard Stoebe and Davut Mizrahi, of Vienna, Austria.

I hope you have enjoyed this virtual version of one of the free Textile Museum Rug and Textile Appreciation Mornings, this one providing a “window” on Manastir kilims and the associated weaving genres of the Balkans.


R. John Howe

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