Ioannis Stathatos, loom designer-maker extraordinaire

It will soon be exactly twenty years since Ioannis Stathatos moved to Chios island, to my village. About six months earlier he had decided to retire to an island. He loved the sea and wanted to be near the water for the rest of his life. So, he came to Chios, went around the island and found a place which could house his new life, including all his ‘toys’, as he called his tools. Tools were very important as he had always been a ‘maker’ and he would need them to fix up his new house. Back in Athens, he worked hard to fulfill the orders he had for looms, before leaving in April 2001.

A Stathatos loom.

Ioannis Stathatos was born in Athens, grew up in Plaka, the old part of the city, below the Acropolis rock which he could see from his bedroom. In the 1950s he went to England to study Textile Engineering. There was a reason for it as his father had a very successful business selling textiles.

Ioannis Stathatos at a very young age.

When he returned to Greece he designed fabrics, blankets, etc. and had them produced. He then spent a few years abroad. Back in Athens, he set up a business importing coffee. All these years textiles were part of his life, in one way or another. He had also made a loom to weave on at home.

Ioannis Stathatos, business card, early 1980s.

One day he received a visitor who happened to see that loom in a corner of the house. That man was working at EOMMEX (Greek handicraft organization). He immediately told Stathatos to start making looms for other weavers, too. The loom was a jack type one, the kind of compact handloom closer to the industrial machines in the way that the harnesses are raised, the beater is pivoted from the base, and very suitable for multi-harness weaving.

Stathatos presenting his first loom at an EOMMEX exhibition, 1983.

Before selling the coffee business and coming full circle to textiles again, by making looms, he did research. He went around visiting weavers to discuss their problems with the looms they were using. Then he designed the looms that made him well known in our weaving world. He wanted to make ‘machines’ that would help weavers make a living by working for several hours without hurting their bodies. The looms were strong, compact to fit in today’s spaces, easy to work on without needing extra strength. There were many small details that made all this possible and he kept developing these details. His textile engineering knowledge and his ability to solve problems helped him with this.

A loom almost ready in the Stathatos workshop.

Until then (early-mid 1980s and later) all looms made in Greece were made by carpenters who did not know much about weaving. They were mostly copying existing looms, either our traditional village looms or looms from abroad (the ‘Armenian’, the ‘Norwegian’, table looms etc.). No-one had designed a loom from scratch.

Stathatos looms at a trade exhibition.
Stathatos looms at a trade exhibition.

Stathatos used to say that “A handloom is a machine in wood, primitive by today’s standards but still a machine”. He did not consider himself a carpenter (“I only know how to make looms”) and he did not use the traditional ways of working with wood (“Why do you make it in this way? We have always made it in this way”). Instead, he developed his own techniques which made his ‘machines’ stronger and his work easier on his body. He never followed an idea or a way of making something without analyzing it and then developing it to make it his own (“… and I can tell you why”). He had a sharp mind that helped him with this. He was also very hardworking, never afraid to try new ways, always working alone because no-one could easily catch up with the speed that his mind and body were working.

Cover of the Stathatos looms brochure.

During the last 17 years of his professional life, as a loom maker, he designed many types: the basic loom (an excellent very strong all-purpose loom), the heavy type (heavy duty and the best and only loom to have for all types of weaving, fine to very heavy), the jack type, the dobby, tapestry, carpet, table looms and many weaving tools. Not long before retiring he designed a horizontal carpet loom, a loom that could accommodate the extreme tension needed on the cotton warp to weave wide pile carpets. Unfortunately, very few of this type of loom were made.

A Stathatos tapestry loom.

During those 17 years in Athens, I was a good client of Stathatos, had bought 7 of his looms. I needed many looms when I was teaching and had many by other makers, too. I could compare them then, and so did my students from many parts of the world.

Stathatos looms at the Centre of Cretan Folk Art
A Stathatos loom in a workshop in Cyprus.

And then I met him again here, on Chios. I remember him telling me that “The loom helps weavers to bring out the artist hidden within them”. I also remember him telling me that he had been the happiest business owner during his loom making years because he had to deal with very nice people, weavers. As far as I know, his clients liked him, too. Some of his clients were bigger state and privately owned weaving workshops. He was a very polite and generous person who used to pass on his weaving knowledge freely, spending a lot of time doing that. I still get his weaving tips passed on to me by other weavers. And people are still calling his family to have a loom made.

Stathatos looms at a weaving workshop on Evia island.
Stathatos looms at a weaving workshop on Evia island.

Stathatos spent his last twelve very happy years on Chios island. He made a lot of friends and left his mark here, too, not only on the weaving world. He continued to be the polite, helpful and generous person he had always been, gathering people around him, finding solutions to their problems, organizing parties. And he enjoyed the freedom of living on the island as much as he could, fishing, hunting, the sea, the countryside filled with the scent of mastiha and citrus trees.

Ioannis Stathatos on the ‘sofa’ he built on his small wooden boat.

It is already 8 years since he left this world but people still remember him. What pushed me to write this blog post was that a few days ago a girl at the super market was talking about him. Also that my lady butcher gave me a Stathatos recipe that she often passes on to her clients. Weaving and life become one.

P.S. Most of the photos were given to me by the Stathatos family, the photographers are unknown to me.

Ioannis Stathatos with his dog Hera.