I have long been a basket case and wherever I find them I hone in like a fine tuned radar.
What is it that attracts me? For one thing the variety of shapes, sizes and colours that can be achieved with a few rushes , grasses or canes. In fact any pliable cane or twig can be fashioned into a basket. Evidence of hard caned baskets have been found on Cyprus dating as far back as Neolithic times which I find mind-blowing. Who first thought of weaving strands of plant material to make a container and what a clever chap or chapess they were?
This craft exists all over the world, I love the colourful baskets of Africa and France particularly and recently bought a beautiful and very colourful basket from a stall at a local garden fair in the centre of Chichester. Butternut baskets imports them from Northern Ghana Africa and what a time I had choosing! I eventually plumped for a crimson and green pattern and now use it to store bread, perfect as it allows air to circulate. This weave is very tight and the grasses used are fine similar to the talaria baskets used to make cheese in Cyprus. In Cyprus traditionally they used a very open weave string like tray which would hang from the beam to store their bread these are called tapatzia .
In Cyprus baskets were made for many purposes and there were even baskets made with openings in the top to allow transportation of fowls to market. On my recent trip I went in search of a tsestos which are particularly made in the Paphos region using straw bound into a rope like strand and wound round, decorated with colours and patterns. I found a very attractive small one for sale in a shop in Platres along with a small, shallow hard caned basket with handles as well as a nicely round shaped talari.
I also wanted to venture to Akrotiri where I knew there were basket makers still working. It was a hot day when I made the journey and it was a longer journey than it seemed on the map. I didn’t find the woman who made the baskets but I discovered the delightful baskets that she had made in a garage next to her house. There were some dinky little talaria and other colourful small baskets made with the same material but in a different shape to what I had seen before. These baskets were half the price to the ones I had bought in a shop in Platres but then it had taken me an hour to get there and the cost of the petrol so I consider them both a fair price.
As I have mentioned before, Sara Dixon and Maura McKee from the UK have joined forces with the weavers of Fyti and the Laona Foundation in Cyprus to find ways of not only preserving the weaving traditions of Fyti but Cypriot weaving traditions in general. This is a project not just to preserve the past but to carry these valuable skills forward into the future where they can be discovered by future generations to use and innovate.
A report is now out, as you will see above, where the meeting of all those concerned have produced various strategies and now various actions to get the project moving forward. It is very exciting to see what can be achieved with energy, enthusiasm, collaboration and communication. Since the initial meeting between Maura, Sara and the people of Fyti, weaving classes have been set up as well as some cookery classes available to anyone interested and some accommodation is available locally, the idea is to get the classes running and then slowly more facilities can be put in place as the project becomes established.
Traditionally weavers have always been self- employed and their work sold piecemeal, so many women who possibly would like to earn an income from weaving are worried that there is not enough demand or the price they will get paid per piece not enough to enable them to earn a regular living. But as the report shows, demand outstrips supply at present and with more exposure and more being produced I am sure there will be no shortage of buyers. I for one would welcome a wider choice of availability and it would be exciting to see the different districts once again producing their individual weaving styles.
Please check out the report and the Phytiotika Facebook page where the latest updates on the project and activities can be found or the website whose link is found on the blogroll right.
I’ve just watched this video via a link from Stroud International Textiles facebook page and was enveloped once again in enthusiasm for the craft and it’s possibilities. So much diversity exists in creative basket weaving.
In Cyprus the basket making tradition is strong and in the past this was a highly versatile and much practised craft for making all manner of containers used in everyday life. Now, sadly there are fewer and fewer exponents of this once ubiquitous craft. The younger generations are not encouraged to take it up, and I’m sure they must think there are much more lucrative ways of earning a living. But what a shame it would be if the skills were lost completely, already the last man to make baskets out of twigs has gone from Kritou Terra.
Weaving is another craft that looked like it might be going the same way but, as already discussed in earlier blogs initiatives are now being put in place to invigorate interest in not only preserving the traditional techniques but also, just as importantly, instigating collaborations between universities in Cyprus and around the world to take an interest in the weavers and weaving techniques of Cyprus, so that innovation can take place and the practises are carried forward. I feel sure the same kind of initiatives can be put in place to re- kindle interest in basket making and get innovation going to produce some exciting and creative products using the traditional materials and techniques.
Lace is yet another very traditional craft of Cyprus and I was excited to see a poster earlier this week, again posted on facebook via Phitiotika, for an exhibition taking place at the Lefkara Hotel with the fabulous title of your ‘Granny can fly’,showing the results of a collaboration between local lace-makers and craft-makers and artists from the UK, Romania and Bulgaria. I wish I could be there to see it. This is so encouraging to see these revered crafts being carried forward by the next generations in new ways.