Collectors of the popular, flat-woven tapestry rugs known as kilims relish stories about the kilim's former outcast status in the pricey world of Oriental carpets. During the early 1900s, according to aficionados, kilims were frequently used to wrap bales of highly marketable plush-pile carpets being shipped to the West. The fate of the kilims that remained in the Near East wasn't usually much prettier; often these rugs were unraveled and their colorful natural-dye yarns were used to weave pile carpets. Today, however, some kilims fetch prices that rival and sometimes surpass those of their plush-pile kin.
The kilim's current vogue traces to the 1960s, a period during which thousands of European and American college students combed the bazaars of Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan in search of inexpensive anti-establishment souvenirs. Among the assorted memorabilia stuffed into America-bound backpacks were kilims of every size and design, because, unlike bulky pile rugs, they carried reasonable price tags and took up little space when tightly rolled. From Berkeley to Boston, students and adventurers--and soon their parents and ultimately their interior designers--turned the kilim from radical into just plain chic.