The calligraphic weavings of Palaiochori, Halkidiki, Greece

A few weeks ago I received a beautiful present in the mail, the book “The Calligraphic Weavings of Palaiochori, Halkidiki”.

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.

Open-air exhibition of Palaiochori weaving, 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.

Calligraphic woollen kilim, 1898, Palaiochori, Halkidiki

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.

“The dance of the Nymphs”, 1942, woven wall-hanging

They were weaving on horizontal looms in strips that were sewn together, narrower in the earlier times and wider later on.

Calligraphic kilim, 1922, Palaiochori, Halkidiki

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:

Calligraphic weavings and weaver, Palaiochori, Halkidiki

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.”

Calligraphic kilims, 1917 and 1934, Palaiochori, Halkidiki

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”

Calligraphic weavings of Palaiochori, Halkidiki

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.”

Calligraphic rug, Palaiochori, Halkidiki

All photos I made from the book and that is why the quality is not so good.

Calligraphic weavings of Palaiochori, Halkidiki

“Calligraphic Weavings of Palaiochori, Halkidiki” co-ordinators: Michaleou F., Velliou K., Sfougaros G. 2020

“Calligraphic weavings of Palaiochori, Halkidiki”

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