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”

French tapestry weaving

About two years ago I wrote a post about my studying tapestry weaving in Provence, France with Daniel Drouin as my teacher. I thought that I had finished with that subject, after all what more would I have to say about it?

It seems that we weavers do not only save a lot of yarn but also a lot of “information” about the subject we love. I am one of the worse ones among us saving photos, articles, magazines, bits of paper with notes (after I have copied the notes in a notebook), books, many books…

Daniel Drouin, gobelin tapestry weaving. Photo: Pierre Ricou, 1974

These last days I have had the chance to go through a lot of the “information” trying to get rid of as much as I can before packing it in boxes. I am moving to a smaller place and instead of packing I am reading.

Today, among all my little “treasures” I found photos, post cards really, of my teacher and a card of one of his tapestries that his wife had sent me with her recipe for pate. Denise Drouin was preparing excellent meals for us, her pate was included in several of them.

Daniel Drouin, gobelin tapestry weaving. Photo: Pierre Ricou, 1974

So, here are the photos, I wanted to share them with you before they go into a box. I will not “get rid” of them, but it will take some time until they are unpacked. And I may not be online for quite a few days after next week.

All black and white photos were made by Pierre Ricou in 1974.

https://toultouline.com/2017/10/06/tapestry-weaving-in-provence-france/

Daniel Drouin, gobelin tapestry weaving. Photo: Pierre Ricou, 1974

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

 

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

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

 

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:

 

 

Natural dyeing in Arachova, Greece

Dyeing material
Dyeing material

Arachova, a small town on the southern slopes of Parnassos mountain, is known today as a skiing resort. But in 1987 when a small group of weavers from Scotland, Finland, Zimbabwe and Greece headed north (from Athens) it was to learn how to naturally dye yarn the way Frosso Haritou had been doing all her life.

Weighing the yarn
Weighing the yarn

Undyed yarn in dye bath
Undyed yarn in dye bath

In Arachova, there were still a few traditional rug weavers and Frosso was one of them. She was dyeing all the wool she was weaving with, using plants from the area, except for the blues and reds which were dyed with chemical dyes.

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10485960_646481952139004_1546028945586890823_o

When we arrived, all the plant material was already collected by Frosso, so after preparing the skeins of wool we started the dyeing procedure. We used walnut, broom, pomegranate, inula, onion skins, flowering ash and eucalyptus.

Washing the dyed yarn
Washing the dyed yarn

During the five days we stayed in Arachova we managed to dye a lot of yarn, to take with us and for Frosso to use in her weaving rugs for her shop. It was quite an experience because I had never participated in dyeing such big quantities of wool. My needs for coloured yarn were always more modest.

Rugs woven by Frosso
Rugs woven by Frosso

While we were dyeing the yarn, Frosso’s mother was sitting with us. She was not weaving anymore but she was still spinning. See the next blog post in a few days.

Frosso's mother cleaning vegetables
Frosso’s mother preparing vegetables (courgette flowers) for a meal

 

Vienoula of Mykonos – Part 2

In the 1960s and 1970s, in many parts of the world, we were discovering, some rediscovering, our roots. There was an explosion of everything related to tradition, music, crafts, interpreted in a more contemporary and personal way. In Greece, at that time, traditional crafts were still practiced, as we saw in the previous blog posts about weaver Vienoula Kousathana, Mykonos, and basket maker ‘Selinos’, Tinos . The thread was not broken.

A woven item that was carried by local people but mostly by tourists visiting Greece was the “tagari”, a hand woven (some times machine woven) bag. Many weaving books of that time were referring to this type of bag as the “Greek bag”.

'Tagari' bag, Vienoula Kousathana, early 1970s
‘Tagari’ bag, Vienoula Kousathana, early 1970s

In Vienoula’s shop the variety of colours was so wide that it was impossible to choose just one tagari. The only solution was to buy several. And that is exactly what I had done, I just discovered two of those. The rest is lost, as expected after all these years.

 

 

Weaver Eri Avgoustidou in Mesta, Chios

Every year, in spring, a weaver from Athens comes to the village of Mesta, Chios island, where she stays for almost six months. Mesta is the best preserved mediaeval village on Chios, a destination for almost everyone visiting the island. (More about Mesta another time).

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Eri Avgoustidou first visited Mesta over 25 years ago and instantly fell in love with it. After all, there was a lot of Chios in her blood, her grandmother came from Kambos and her husband’s family from Mesta. She made a plan to learn how to weave and return to the village to buy a house and start a business. And so she did. She is the owner of the “Agnytha” shop.

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During the winter, in Athens, she weaves in her studio, inspired by the Greek tradition. She also teaches a group of over twenty weavers who come to learn from her, year after year, at the cultural centre of the Municipality of Moschato-Tavros.

 

Eri is one of those people who enjoy what they do and this is one of the reasons why she has become one of our best quality weavers (ask me) and teachers (ask her many students who love her).

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A few years ago she wove the silk fabric for her daughter-in-law’s wedding dress. It was beautifully woven and the dress was gracefully moving while the couple was dancing at the wedding party. Let’s hope that she will weave fabric for her four grandchildren’s weddings. They will be lucky if she will.