Foreign weaving students learn traditional Greek techniques

Students from N. Zealand (rag rug), Finland (kilim), Switzerland (vourjia), USA (pile carpet). Traditional weavings from the Leonidion area, in the background.

For decades, I have been fascinated by the variety of traditional weaving produced all over the world. Most techniques are the same or similar. But the results depend on the types of looms and tools available in each area, the material used for warp and weft (cotton, linen, wool), the thickness of the yarn, the breed of sheep for wool, the colour of yarn used (natural or naturally dyed by plants growing in the area). Designs and colours are very much influenced by the environment and the light of each place.

Naxos weaving. Student from Switzerland

During the 1980s I organized several courses every summer to teach the traditional Greek weaving techniques to foreign weavers. My students were of all weaving levels and from all the continents in the world. They learned a lot, not only about weaving but also about Greek life. And I learned a lot about weaving from more places than I can remember. I had a great time surrounded by weavers, nice people with common interests. I think that most of them were happy, too, since quite a few came back for a second course, some for a third.

Tagari bag, Peloponnese style. Student from Scotland
Vourjia, front. Student from Scotland
Vourjia, back. Student from Scotland

The projects woven by the students were supposed to be as “Greek” as possible. But, usually, there was a touch of the weaver’s personality, and nationality, in the combination of the designs used, of the colours, etc.

Vourjia, front. Student from Switzerland
Vourjia, front. Student from N. Zealand

Vourjias were the traditional “back packs” on many islands. We studied the ones from Crete because they were the most colourful and decorated ones, some so fine that they were almost works of art. Most of the “foreign touches” were in the combination of colours on the striped backs of the bags.

Vourjia, front, French student
Vourjia, back, French student
Vourjia, front. Student from USA
Vourjia, back. Student from USA

Flokatis are non-knotted pile rugs in wool (used as bedding in the early times). They are washed in a “nerotrivi”, a whirlpool of water which felts the wool and keeps the pile in place. We used natural coloured wool.

Naxos island is famous for the very decorated fabrics used everywhere in the house. Usually in white cotton, with red and blue loom- or weaver-controlled “embroidery”. This technique is used in other parts of Greece, too.

Naxos weaving. Student from Switzerland
Naxos weaving. Student from Switzerland

One can find kilim (flat) weaving almost all over the world. The differences are in the combination of warp and weft (cotton-wool, all wool, etc.), the thickness of the weaving, and the design. We wove in the thick quality, as practiced in Leonidion, Peloponnese.

Kilim weaving, student from Finland
Rag rug. Student from N. Zealand

In Greece, there was not much knotted pile carpet weaving, in the oriental way. But 97 years ago this art-craft was brought here by the Greek refugees who managed to come over and save their lives (Destruction of Smyrna, 1922). Historically, the coast of Asia Minor (western Turkey today) was inhabited by Greeks, a lot of the antiquities still there prove it. Most of the organised workshops of pile carpet production were owned by Greeks (Sparta, Smyrna, etc.), exporting carpets mostly to Europe. So upon arrival many new workshops were set up, in Greece this time, to fulfil the orders taken in Asia Minor, carpets were woven and exported. In our courses, we used the technique of the Greek refugees (material and knots). The rugs woven by the students were small, pile carpet weaving is a very time consuming technique, including the warping of the loom.

Pile carpet (USA), vourjia (Sweden), pile carpet (USA), Naxos weaving (USA)

The photos are not of all the different types of weaving done in the courses, just some of them. Hopefully, one day I will have a slide scanner and I will be able to scan decades of weaving, costume, etc. slides.

Vourjia, front. Student from USA
Vourjia, back. Student from USA

Tapestry weaving, jewellery and hearts

It all started with weaving, like so much in my life. In the mid-1980s I received a letter from Tasmania, Australia. It was from Joanna De Jonge who wanted to come and attend the “Traditional Greek weaving techniques” workshop I was offering at that time. She did come next year. After the two weeks in Leonidion, she spent some time in Athens, went back home to Australia and returned next year to Athens, this time for about twelve years.

Joanna De Jonge's tapestry, 1980s
Joanna De Jonge’s tapestry, 1980s

She was very kind, polite and caring, it was easy to be friends with her. We used to meet quite often and talk a lot about everything, her family, her children Ben, Sarah and Emma, about what we liked to make and about what we were “making”. But also about the problems a foreign woman had to face, living alone in Athens, renewing her visa (not easy), trying to make some extra money to survive. Whenever we met in her small apartment I could see her work, clothes stitched by hand, small bags in fabric or leather, knitting, creative ways to use whatever was available – all very clever ways (long before “recycling” became fashionable). And all that by stitching by hand, with just a needle.

Joanna De Jonge tapestry, 1980s
Joanna De Jonge tapestry, 1980s

She was also drawing, making cards that she was selling together with everything else she was making, to shops, friends and on a beautiful piece of fabric in the street in Monastiraki (flea market in Athens).

Joanna De Jonge, 2018
Joanna De Jonge sent me this in 2018

Then I started making jewellery. Joanna gave me a book, that I still have, and started describing the ways her husband, an artist and jewellery maker, was casting metal for his work. Now, we were talking a lot about jewellery and about Jon De Jonge’s Life Chains (every link representing a different phase or event in one’s life).

Life chain, Emma De Jong
Jon De Jonge’s Life Chain, made by Emma De Jonge

After twelve years, Joanna went back home. We exchanged letters for many years, but, as it often happens, we stopped writing.

Emma De Jonge's jewellery
Emma De Jonge’s jewellery

About two years ago, I found photos I had of Joanna’s tapestries and decided to find out how she was doing. The internet helped. I tried to find the jewellery of Jon De Jonge and discovered that he was not making jewellery anymore, concentrating on his other art. But his daughter Emma had taken over his studio and continued working on his designs and hers, too. After contacting Emma I learned that Joanna was well. We became facebook friends to keep in touch and I posted Joanna’s tapestries for her to see.

Emma De Jonge making jewellery
Emma De Jonge making jewellery

Last year I happened to see a facebook page called “1000 Hearts” and decided to check it out. It was about a kindness project, a decision to make/stitch 1000 pocket hearts “to bring a little hope, a little comfort and a little courage to those who receive them”. The page offered a PDF on how to make these hearts, in case someone wanted to do the same. I did want to do the same and sent a message. The answer, from “1000 Hearts”, said that she was interested in everything Greek because her mother had lived in Athens for about 12 years. Signed by Sarah De Jonge! Joanna’s daughter! Our world is really small. I told her who I was and we are in touch since then. And I have even been inspired to start my “1000 Hearts, Greece” project.

Sarah De Jonge's pocket hearts
Sarah De Jonge’s pocket hearts

So, Emma makes very fine and well-made jewellery, continuing her father’s work. She even makes his Life Chains that we were talking about with Joanna all those years ago. Sarah, in a certain way, is continuing her mother’s work, stitching, beautiful stitching, to make her hearts. (Her project is about much more than “just stitching”). What I really like is how close the sisters are and how they support each other. I’m sure the same goes for their brother Ben.

Sarah De Jonge's hearts
Sarah De Jonge’s hearts, stitched by her and sold at her Etsy shop

Joanna has quite a few grandchildren. One is already making art, quite natural for this artistic family. What about jewellery and stitching? Who knows? I am sure though that kindness and caring will always be there for this family, it’s in their blood.

Jon De Jonge's painting
Jon De Jonge’s painting

For more check out:

Emma’s jewellery website         https://www.dejongejewellery.com.au

Sarah’s (1000 Hearts) website         https://www.1000hearts.com.au

P.S. 1 – If you are interested in participating in the ‘1000 Hearts, Greece’ project please send me a message, wherever you are in Greece. You can also send a message through my facebook page “Toultouline”   http://www.facebook.com/Toultouline/   The more we are, the more useful we can be. Thank you Sarah!

P.S. 2 All photos in this post were provided by the family (stolen with permission).

Jon De Jonge's painting
Jon De Jonge’s painting

 

Spring has come

Chios, Greece. Spring 2019
Chios, Greece. Spring 2019

As I am thinking more and more about spending winters in the big city, Chios is getting more and more beautiful. Spring has come. Wherever I go I see colours, yellows, greens, purples. And every day these colours are changing, soon they will become stronger.

Chios island, Greece. Spring 2019
Chios island, Greece. Spring 2019

The colours in the photos are just a few of what I saw this morning. It is so exciting to be surrounded by all this beauty that making a photo, placing the camera between my eyes and the colours, is sacrilege.

Chios island, Greece, spring 2019
Chios island, Greece. Spring 2019

The Mastic Museum, Chios island, Greece

Mastic trees
Mastic trees

The time of the year has arrived when the many mastiha (mastic) producers of southern Chios have already collected and washed the resin drops from the mastic trees and are now cleaning them one drop (tear) by one drop (tear) at a time. This will take a few months.

Cleaning mastiha
Cleaning mastiha

When I made the blog post about mastiha and the museum, last October (https://toultouline.com/2017/10/20/the-mastic-gum-of-chios-greece/) the video I just discovered did not exist. It is about the Mastic Museum and it shows the whole setup beautifully. You can see the rows of cultivated mastic trees around the museum.  So here it is:

But not all mastic trees are cultivated. There are still many left in their natural state.

Uncultivated mastic trees
Uncultivated mastic trees

 

 

 

The web of life

Old kilim. Stemnitsa, Peloponnese, Greece
Old kilim. Stemnitsa, Peloponnese, Greece

In an old 1950s book I found the following description of the web of life. The writer is unknown:

“Life is a loom and we are the weavers: the strong, sweet principles of truth and honesty and justice are the warp, and our thoughts and deeds — carried to and fro in the swiftly moving shuttles — make up the wool; and the woven web is the life eternal. For the Master Weaver is the Lord of Love, and He sets the patterns, simple or complex, according to our ability, and lays the formula before us, and leaves us to our task. OURS IS TO SPOIL THE WEB OR WEAVE IT INTO TRANSCENDENT BEAUTY.”

P.S. The photos of the two kilims were made in the winter of 1983 in Stemnitsa, Peloponnese, Greece. It was cleaning day at the church and the kilims were brought outside. Two very nice ladies held them up for the photos. The kilims were already at least 50 years old. And for the weavers among us, they were woven on a horizontal loom in two strips sewn together and for weft, they had used naturally dyed local wool. The loom in the photo at the top is a Stathatos loom.

Kilim. Stemnitsa, Peloponnese, Greece
Kilim. Stemnitsa, Peloponnese, Greece

Robert Preyer, German painter, and Chios island, Greece

It must have been in 2002 when Gerti Preyer told me, a newcomer, that they, her husband and herself, had already been in our small village for about 18 years, the last 10 living full time there. Her husband was Robert Preyer, a German painter. He was born in 1930 in Brussels, Belgium, and moved to Germany in 1944 where, later on, he studied art. During his life, he taught painting and had many exhibitions of his work. In the years 1968-88, he was a professor at the Fachhochschule Wiesbaden.

Robert Preyer - the way I remember him
Robert Preyer – the way I remember him

 

Robert Preyer - younger
Robert Preyer 

He started with lithography, then he developed his painting. The landscape, the light and the colours of Greece were decisive for his work. Robert Preyer: “In this illuminated country, my painting could quickly take root. Rather as the result of colours, the liquid and solid matter of the Greek landscape resembles my idea of materializing the colouristic appearance on the canvas. But the natural effect of the images arises from the energy of the colours when they form and grow together.”

Robert Preyer
Robert Preyer

 

Robert Preyer
Robert Preyer

During the time he lived full time on Chios and then when he spent the winters in Germany and the rest of the year in Greece, Robert kept his ties with the art world in Germany where he often had exhibitions of his work.

Robert Preyer 2013
Robert Preyer 2013

Robert Preyer- Bei den pflanzen, 2012
Robert Preyer – Bei den pflanzen, 2012

Gerti was spending more time than Robert socializing with the people in the village and also feeding the stray cats. Robert, a very kind and quiet man, when not visiting different places on the island and enjoying the sea, was working in his studio, completely absorbed by his art making. He kept painting until the end.

Robert Preyer and Helga Fohl (Torsi) 2015
Robert Preyer and Helga Fohl (Torsi), exhibition 2015

In the early autumn of 2014, he spent some time in the hospital on Chios, then in Germany, where in December he passed away in Rettert im Taunus. Gerti continued returning to Chios every spring and leaving in the autumn until her death in February 2017.

Robert Preyer 2014
Robert Preyer 2014

Robert Preyer 2009
Robert Preyer 2009

Both Robert and Gerti Preyer were very much liked by everyone in the village. Their house, at the edge of the village with a nice open view, was renovated with love by them. Today, the people who live there have no connection with the Preyer family. They also have no idea of the artist’s struggle to find inspiration, to express it through his medium, to be creative. I’m not even sure they care…

The Preyer house
The Preyer house

View from the Preyer house
View from the Preyer house

SaveSave

Ruins in my village, Chios island, Greece

The weather is still very good in my part of the world, southern Chios island, Greece. It is sunny and quite warm, perfect for spending time outside. And that’s exactly what I did this morning, I spent some time walking around in my village and looking at the ruins.

Ruin, Chios island, Greece

By studying the half demolished old houses I can see the work of the old craftsmen who built them by cutting each stone by hand, carrying it to the building site, assembling the stones to form a wall, then doors, windows, steps, floors, ceilings, etc. I can see the building techniques used so that the walls could support at least one extra floor. I can also see that different stones were used for the doors and windows, big slabs of stone for the floors and steps. The hand of the craftsman is present on every stone. Often, we can see some additions and repairs done on the original building at a later time.

Older people in my village have told me that everyone was working in the building of a new house. After all, just to give the right shape to every stone used and to carry all the very heavy building material to the building site, a lot of people and animals were needed.

Many of the ruins belong to people who do not live in Greece anymore or have moved to Athens. Their parents and grandparents left the village many years ago. Often, a house is owned by many people who do not even know each other, they are just coming from the same family a few generations back. In one case, the space of the ruin has been taken over by the neighbours to create a green spot in the middle of our stone village.

A green spot being created
A garden in a ruin.

After studying the “raw” stone walls of the ruins, my walls have another meaning. I can picture the craftsmen around 1740 trying to cut by hand and fit the stones together to build my house. How many were they? Where did the stone come from? How long did it take to build the house? Who was the owner? Did he have a big family? Did they live happily in this house?

Big and heavy stones form the door frames.

Weaving in Kerasochori, Evrytania, Greece

Kerasochori is a small village in the Evrytania province of central Greece. In the 1970s the area was “forgotten” by the Greek state. There were no roads, communication between the inhabitants of the beautiful villages was difficult. Life was not easy, there were no jobs, and people, especially the younger ones, were abandoning their villages for the big cities.

Woven in Kerasochori, Evrytania, Greece, 1978-79
Greek bag, woven in Kerasochori, Evrytania, Greece, 1978-79

The Swiss organization “La Terre des Hommes” decided to help by creating a weaving school in Kerasochori, providing education and a home for young girls coming from poor families of the area. The organization worked with the Greek Handicraft Organization, the Church of Greece, who donated the buildings, and in 1974 the school was founded. The goal was to teach a traditional craft to young girls who could, then, be able to create a job for themselves, maybe without leaving their villages.

Woven in Kerasochori, Evrytania, Greece, 1978-79
Woven in Kerasochori, Evrytania, Greece, 1978-79

Greek bag, woven in Kerasochori, Greece
Greek bag, woven in Kerasochori, Evrytania, Greece, 1978-79

The girls, 13 to 15 years old, attended the school for two years. They learned how to weave using traditional techniques and designs. Some even created their own designs inspired by tradition. They used the material available in their mountain villages, wool from their sheep, in natural white, gray, brown, black, or dyed in different colours. The warp was cotton.

Woven in Kerasochori, Evrytania, Greece, 1978-79
Woven in Kerasochori, Evrytania, Greece, 1978-79

Most of the weavings were sold in Athens, placemats, Greek bags, cushion covers, wall hangings, rugs of all sizes in many colours and designs. The photos here are of small pieces. All of the bigger rugs I have are in storage right now. If / when I will have the chance to make photos, I will post them here.

The school has closed down, since long time ago.

Woven in Kerasochori, Greece, 1978-79
Woven in Kerasochori, Greece, 1978-79

Woven in Kerasochori, Greece, 1978-79
Woven in Kerasochori, Greece, 1978-79

 

The mastic gum of Chios, Greece

Living in one of the 24 mastic gum (mastiha) producing villages of Southern Chios, I have been exposed to the cultivation of mastiha since I first came here. Almost everyone in my village is involved in the production of this magical resin, valuable for many uses: for medicines, cosmetics, art paints and varnishes, sweets, etc.

toultouline.com
Mastic trees

It was always cultivated on the island but started becoming known in the 10th century by travellers visiting Chios. The trade became more organized in the 14th century.

toultouline.com

The mastic tree/bush (skinos, Pistacia Lentiscus var. Chia) grows all over Chios, also all over the Mediterranean area, but only produces mastic gum in the southern part of Chios. It is one of the strongest plants, it can live without water, in bad soil, and lasts for many years. The mastiha production is worthwhile from about the 5th year of the life of the plant and reaches its best at around the 15th year. It can live up to 100 years. A mature tree produces about 200 grams per year.

toultouline.com
White soil under mastic trees

The cultivation of mastiha starts around May-June and ends in September-October, depending on the weather. First, they prepare and clean the area under each tree, then spread a white soil on that area so that the drops (the tears) of resin falling are kept clean. Next, with a special sharp and pointed tool, they “wound” the tree by making incisions on the trunk and the branches (see the beautiful film at the end of this post).

toultouline.com
Photo at the Chios Mastic Museum

After the mastiha has fallen on the ground, and become hard, it is collected very early in the morning, while it is still cool and the resin remains hard. Then they “bring it in”, to the village, where they continue with the “cleaning” of it. This involves sifting it through different sizes of sieves to clean it from the soil and leaves.

toultouline.com
Sieves at the Chios Mastic Museum

toultouline.com
Old photo at the Chios Mastic Museum, 1930-1950

toultouline.com
Photo at the Chios Mastic Museum

Next comes the washing. Some people who live near the sea still go there to wash their mastiha.

toultouline.com
Washing mastic gum in the sea, Southern Chios (2016)

toultouline.com
Sifted and washed mastiha

The final cleaning is done by the women. They usually gather around a round tray (sini), now a round table but still called sini. They clean the resin drops, one by one, by removing any impurities using a needle, work that demands strong eyes and a lot of patience. This takes a few months, depending on the quantity of the harvest. When they finish they take it to the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association for the final processing.

toultouline.com
Cleaning mastiha, at the Chios Mastic Museum

toultouline.com
Cleaning mastiha (2017)

toultouline.com
Cleaning mastiha

A few days ago I visited the new Chios Mastic Museum, a very modern building housing a very old trade. It is located in the middle of the mastic producing villages and is surrounded by mastic trees where one can follow their cultivation, an open-air museum exhibition.

toultouline.com
Chios Mastic Museum

toultouline.com
Chios Mastic Museum

“The aim of the Chios Mastic Museum is to highlight the production history of the cultivation and processing of mastic, also incorporating it to the cultural landscape of Chios. Through the inclusion of traditional mastic cultivation in the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2014, the emphasis is on the timelessness and the sustainability of the product of Chios”   {Copied from the Museum’s brochure}

toultouline.com
Old distiller for the production of mastic oil, Chios Mastic Museum

toultouline.com
Old “machinery” for the final processing of mastic gum. Chios Mastic Museum

I am definitely going back. Although mastiha production is part of my fellow villagers lives, there is a lot to see in that museum, details from the past and from the other villages, in a very organized and pleasant way. It made me see that not much has changed since the 19th-20th centuries. Also, there is a nice cafe with views over many mastic trees and the sea far away. Coffee was served with a cookie filled with mastiha cream. There is also a lot of modern art on the walls of some parts of the museum which connects the past with the present.

“The tree we hurt” 1986 ,  English subtitles

This film shows how the mediaeval fortress type villages of Southern Chios, where the mastiha producers lived for centuries (and still do), were around 1985. Not much has changed, they are only better preserved (see my blog post “Start where you are”). In this film you can also see the landscape of Chios, mastic trees, cultivaton, and follow a sweet story with beautiful music.

 

 

Tapestry weaving in Provence, France

Since I am still talking about the past, I decided to move outside of Greece, this time, and go ‘back’ to Provence, France.  In the summer of 1980 I went to Venasque, a small village in Provence, France, to study tapestry weaving with a professional ‘licier’ (tapestry weaver). Daniel Drouin had studied at the ‘Manufactures Nationales des Gobelins’ in Paris and then worked there for quite a few years.

Daniel Drouin,1980  toultouline,com
Daniel Drouin winding bobbins, 1980 (Photo from the internet, unknown source)

In the 1970s he set up his own studio and home in Venasque, where he designed and wove his own tapestries. In the summer he run residential courses, assisted by his wife Denise.

Tapestry weaving, 1980, France, toultouline.com
Weaving my tapestry from the back, the traditional Gobelin way

Tapestry weaving, 1980
More has been woven. Photographed from the front, woven from the back

We were six students from France, Finland, USA, and Greece. We wove, on the upright very sturdy Gobelin looms, the designs we chose from the ones that Daniel had prepared for us. I did not think that the one I chose was the most beautiful. As I had already been weaving for a few years and had tried my hand in tapestry, I could see that it included many techniques that I wanted to learn. We wove every day for six hours, the week-ends were free for excursions in the area.

Daniel Drouin
Tapestries by Daniel Drouin in an exhibition setting (photo from the internet, unknown source)

There was an exhibition space of the recent tapestries, for visitors who passed by. But the house was full of Daniel’s work of previous years. Even our six bedrooms had at least one tapestry on the wall, some had more. All were quite large, as most tapestries were at that time.

Daniel Drouin tapestry, toultouline.com
Tapestry in one of the bedrooms.

Daniel Drouin tapestry, toultouline.com
Tapestry in a bedroom. This must have been one of his older tapestries. It was different from the others, also very large.

After just a few years, Daniel Drouin stopped teaching and concentrated on his own work. I consider myself lucky that I had the chance to study with him. Not only for the weaving techniques, or the beautiful environment, but for giving me the chance, by following him, to see how an artist works and develops his ideas over the years.

Daniel Drouin, tapestry weaver
Daniel Drouin weaving. (photo from the internet, unknown source)

Daniel Drouin tapestry
Tapestry by Daniel Drouin (photo from the internet, unknown source)

A short and quite recent video of Daniel Drouin. He weaves from the back but he can see the front side of the tapestry in the mirror, through the warp threads: