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…
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
Many moons ago, in a shop full of woven colour on the island of Mykonos, I met Vienoula Kousathana (Vienoula of Mykonos). That is where I saw a traditional working loom for the first time. I had no idea then how meeting that wonderful lively older woman would affect my life.
Talking with her, not only about weaving, was always a pleasure. I remember her complaining that “younger women don’t weave anymore, they want to have long red fingernails and you cannot weave with long red fingernails”.
Later on that summer another weaver showed me in detail how the loom works. Warp making seemed to be quite complicated so I forgot all about looms.
Next winter, back in Athens, I found a book called “Step-by-step Weaving” (Nell Znamierowsky), bought it and made a simple loom following the directions in it. That loom was similar to a toy I had as a child, a gift from my uncle Christos.
I taught myself how to weave, how to make a good warp, and after many books and many complex looms (up to a dobby-loom) I have returned to the simple creative techniques in that first book. The same techniques that Vienoula was using while playing with colour.
Since that meeting with Vienoula, weaving has taken me to many places and, a few decades later, it still does.
[The photo of Vienoula at the top was found on the internet]
There are many photos of Vienoula, her weaving, her shop, friends and family in the following video. It is in Greek but the YouTube description in English is quite good.
VIENOULAS ENGLISH SPOKEN
Script-editing-Direction: Andonis Theocaris Kioukas
Doc, 50′, 2015
The film tells the story of Vienoula, a weaver who changed the course of crafting Mykonian textiles.
Born in 1907, Viennoula traveled to England at the age of 13. The year was 1920 and she spent the next 5 years in Britain at her godmother’s side. She learned perfect English and eventually returned to Mykonos in 1925. Upon her return she took up her mother’s loom and began to weave. She married Dimitris Kousathanas (nicknamed “Baby”); they had 5 children together. After World War II ended the first tourists began to visit the island. And they met Viennoula as she was the only local who spoke English. One of these travelers was Florence Henry, the photographer for Dior. He inspired Viennoula to transform herself from employee to entrepreneur. In 1950 she opened her own shop with her own original creations. From that point on, each visitor coming to the island, without exception, ended up in a tiny shop with a sign posted on the door “English Spoken.” Inside the small room the walls are covered in shelves brimming with her handmade creations: jackets, skirts, ties, tablecloths, rugs and blankets. In front of the window stands the loom and seated behind it is a Greek woman with sparkling black eyes and neatly combed grey hair, welcoming you with a smile as warm as an embrace. Poets, writers, architects, dancers, fashion designers, musicians and artists from every corner of the earth gathered round Vienoula’s loom. In the back of the house was the kitchen. On the large table there was always a plate of food to be shared with Mykonian or tourist passer-bys. And with some of these people lifelong friendships were forged; Kostantino Doxiathi of the building society and the violinist Yehudi Menuhin were 2 of these friendships.
Vienoula revolutionized the traditional Mykonian woven textile. She experimented fearlessly, willing to try new things. She changed the plain, somber pattern and the method of the weave. But more important than everything else she changed the color of the textile; she made it brighter, colorful and charming. Vienoula was both open-minded and open-hearted. She became one of the people who was identified with Mykonos. She loved life; to dance, to sing, to share good company, to tell jokes and to pose riddles. She was smart and ambitious and without grandiose ideas about herself. And when both Greeks and tourists told her she was an artist she replied “I am simply a weaver.”
The film was directed by Andonis Theocharis Kioukas of Q-kas Productions (www.qkas.gr). It is the second in a series of films Kioukas has produced and directed during the last few years in an attempt to preserve the cultural heritage passed down by these unique Mykonian individuals, larger than life, helping the island to grow and thrive in their unique way. Kioukas says he has chosen individuals that magically transformed the island, without they themselves knowing quite how they accomplished this. The 45 minute film is made up of interviews with 4 of Vienoula’s children—Amalia, Annouso, Anna and Panyioti as well as local artisans, Karolina and Luis Orasco.