Somewhere, in a book, I once read “The sun rises in obedience to a universal law”. A sunrise means much more to me. A new day, a new beginning, being thankful that I am there watching it, beauty, change.
There is change from second to second, especially when the sun starts rising. And variety, every day is different, even when it seems to be the same. Just like everything in life.
A few weeks ago I received a beautiful present in the mail, the book “The Calligraphic Weavings of Palaiochori, Halkidiki”.
Palaiochori is a mountain village in Halkidiki, Macedonia, northern Greece. The book was printed after an open-air exhibition of the weavings at the square of the village, during Easter 2019.
This publication is full of beautiful photos of the weavings called calligraphic in the area. The designs are mostly flowers, especially roses, and were woven from about the end of the 19th century until the late 1980s.
The earlier, and finer, ones were called kilims and were used as bed covers or, in a smaller size, to wrap a child. Then, after the 2nd World War, they started weaving what they called rugs. They also made wall hangings to place near a bed, for beauty and protection.
They were weaving on horizontal looms in strips that were sewn together, narrower in the earlier times and wider later on.
What mostly touched me are the words of the weavers themselves. Here are some, from the interviews with the weavers, freely translated from the book:
Rina Papathanasiou-Tsiountou, age 85
“I started weaving at the age of 14-15. My legs almost couldn’t reach the treadles. The loom was set up in the room we were sleeping in. ………… My first weaving was a woollen blanket in blue. After that one I wove blankets in various colours, for myself and my sister. ……………… I wove my first calligraphic woollen rug in 1954. That is when it became fashionable to make rugs for the dowries. ……………. We were weaving in wintertime because during the summer we were in the fields. We were waking up before sunrise and starting weaving, in order to be able to finish. We had to finish as quickly as possible. The rug to be copied, borrowed from another Palaiochori woman, had to be returned the soonest possible. There was always the worrying that nothing should happen to a small fortune in someone else’s house. The sound of the loom was heard from all the neighbourhood houses. In the early morning darkness and the quiet of the village, only ‘gap-goup’ could be heard. Across the street, aunt Marigouda Tsouloufina was weaving, she had to make dowries for two daughters. Anna Makavou had to prepare three dowries. We were stopping for lunch and then we worked until the evening. I was taught the calligraphic weaving by my neighbour Anna Makavou. ………………………………………………………… I worked at the loom for many years, mostly to sell. The yarns that the traders were giving us were not handmade, like the ones we were spinning for the dowries, they were factory made. ……………………………… Later on, from 1976 to 1979, I wove my daughter’s dowry. I made two rugs and gave her my mother’s yellow kilim. In 2001, I set up a loom again because I had saved handspun yarn. Until 2003, I made four weavings for my son’s family, all calligraphic.
I was the last weaver in Palaiochori.”
Pelagia Papastoikou-Tsiourli, age 80
“The calligraphic weavings that we were making at my time, were easier than the calligraphy of our mothers. My mother’s dowry was two yellow kilims, with dense roses and other flowers. She sold them during the big hunger of the 2nd World War, to feed her family. She was very sad that she had sold them, but also grateful because no-one in her family got hungry, thanks to this small fortune in her dowry”
Haido Kalogria-Tziourtzioumi, age 77
“At the age of 15-16 I started weaving. We already had the loom set up in the house because my mother was weaving to sell. ……………. I started weaving my dowry, already engaged, at the age of 17. I wove cotton sheets, tablecloths, woollen blankets and calligraphic rugs. My rugs were all “Rose bushes”, I liked flowers in weaving very much. I did not make any rugs with geometric designs. …………. All my dowry was prepared within three years, until I got married. …………………………. With the calligraphic weaving we were ‘dressing’ the house. We were making the rooms beautiful. We just had a bed, a table and chairs. When we were spreading our rugs, hanging the wall weavings, the house was becoming calm and warm. From morning until the evening I was working to prepare my dowry. All the girls in the neighbourhood were working on their dowries. ………… with our heads down, we were counting all day in order not to make a mistake. The mistake had to be unwoven, because the design was losing its harmony. Calligraphic weaving was lonely work. If you were skipping something while counting, all the work was lost. ………. If you were getting the wrong warp threads or colours, you were destroying the balance of the design. You could add a design, change a colour, but you were always counting. Everything was arithmetic. ………………………………. While I was married with four children, a mother in law, I wove dowries for my two sisters. Then, in the 1970s, I started weaving my daughter’s dowry. ….
I loved the loom. I liked weaving. I was proud of the work I was creating. Can you believe it? I miss it.”
All photos I made from the book and that is why the quality is not so good.
“Calligraphic Weavings of Palaiochori, Halkidiki” co-ordinators: Michaleou F., Velliou K., Sfougaros G. 2020
Once, not so long ago, there was a man who loved the sea and wanted to live the rest of his life on the island. Then came a woman, she met the man and she also moved to the island. They got married in a tiny church in the countryside, bought a small boat and decided they wanted a little house near the port where their boat was moored.
So they built a wooden house, a place to bring together all their friends to eat, drink ouzo and souma (the local drink), talk and have fun. After the man “left” this world, the woman planted a cypress tree and started using the house as a retreat to read, make jewellery, weave her tapestries, be close to nature and walk near the sea. This is the story of the Blue House.
The plot, on which the house is built, is half filled with mastic trees. The place is perfect for independent minds who want to work creatively in a natural environment surrounded by light, have a pleasant place to return to after exploring the island, or spend quiet days near the sea and among mastic trees (the basic elements of Chios).
I miss my village. Because of the Covid-19 I am stuck in the big city. Spring makes it more difficult, but I shouldn’t complain. The streets in my neighbourhood are lined with trees and the smell of the citrus flowers is intoxicating. And I have the Acropolis to rest my eyes on. It is rather quiet and as there are not so many cars driving around I can hear the birds singing. But my “plan” was to spend Easter in my village. Plans proved to be just plans.
My real “village” is Athens, but my Chios one adopted me almost twenty years ago. It first adopted my husband, who found himself there by chance, and then I followed.
I am dreaming of walking around in the village, breathing the fragrant air (Chios is famous for it), talking to people, exchanging news, exploring the old and often abandoned houses. These houses have many interesting stories to tell me. But, to be honest, I often prefer to wonder about these stories, or make up my own. The truth can sometimes be disappointing.
All the houses in this castle-village are made of stone and each stone is interesting, unique, there are no two exactly the same. I can see the marks of the human hands that shaped them and I think of the people who carried these heavy stones on their backs or on the backs of their donkeys or mules. When I first went to the village there were only two donkeys left, now there is none. Progress!…
But the village is not just stones. It is surrounded by beautiful nature with mastic trees, wild flowers and bushes, gardens with flowers and vegetables, vineyards and, a little further away, the blue sea.
People are the most important “ingredient” in a small community, the friendships made and the way they help each other, especially in bad times. And I miss them.
Twenty four years ago Nikos Balatsos decided to make a new beginning in his life, in a place where he had never been before. So, he came to Chios from Karditsa (mainland Greece). All he knew about the island was that mastiha (mastic) was cultivated in the southern part of it, the only place in the world. Maybe that’s what brought him here, he says.
After school he started looking for something to study that would allow him to do creative work and be his own boss. Then he discovered ceramics. He went to Italy to a school for ceramics where, as a very young man, he also learned a lot about life. He is happy about his choice, now.
When he arrived to Chios he met good people who supported his decision to stay and find the right place for him. One day, by chance, he found an old half ruined olive press mill in Mesta. That is where he housed his ceramics workshop and set up a new life. Now he has a beautiful shop-workshop, at the entrance of the mediaeval village, with a sunny little courtyard where his clients sit and talk with him.
All his work is based on shapes. He forms the clay on the potter’s wheel and then shapes it again by hand, trying to extend it beyond its limits. Then comes the colouring. That is what makes his work even more personal. He works mostly in blues and greens mixing mineral salts and silver nitrate, using his own recipes. By changing even slightly the proportions of the materials, colours keep changing. Even the humidity in the air, he says, makes a difference. He feels humbled by all this, realizing that he knows very little although he has worked on it for so long. After all these years he keeps experimenting, making new discoveries, and learning. Every batch of ceramics is fired three times. Whenever a round of work has finished, he starts a new one.
Nikos’ work expresses, consciously or unconsciously, his experiences in life, his feelings, everything that’s inside him, even the weather, the environment, the light… That is why there are variations, so much depth, so many layers of colour. It is a pity that most of this is lost in the photos.
For the future, he wants to keep experimenting, making new discoveries and doing what he loves, for as long as he can. Life is good here. He ended up in one of the mastic producing villages, after all, in the southern part of Chios island!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
After twelve years, Joanna went back home. We exchanged letters for many years, but, as it often happens, we stopped writing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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…