On Sunday I made a trip to Steni, a well placed village that claws its way up the hillside on the road from Polis Chrysochous to Lysos and beyond to Stavros tis Psokas. The countryside up here is breathtaking, the village is pretty large with a good sized population. Recently the village centre has had some money spent on it like many others in Cyprus since the joining of the EU, with newly made and repaired stone walls and a new village centre with a large communal open square where a brand new museum also stands. I was very impressed by this small museum because of the variety of artefacts on display and how well laid out it is. I suppose because it is new it also lacked that dusty unkempt look that many small museums seem to convey. I have a sneaky feeling that some of the wooden items have been cleaned up and sanded down( sharp intake of breath) but hey I guess that is how they would have looked when new, right? They seemed to have lost a bit of patina in the process ‘though.
The main appeal for me was that they had really good examples of traditional hand woven textiles. The beautiful example of sheeting used for the hangings on the bed, reminded me of the sheets my Aunt used to weave on her loom in the village of Yerolakkos. These looked like they had silk woven in to them, very common back then as most villagers kept their own silk worms. On display was a huge cross section of implements used in every day domestic life as well as farming. Well worth a visit if you are in the area and it’s totally free. The mayor Elias Lambidis was very helpful and has taken some of my books to put on sale, so if you haven’t already got a copy here is a chance to get your hands on one. There is a list of other outlets where you can get a copy in Cyprus, on the page About the book.
My trip to Cyprus this year had to include another trip to Fyti to meet with more of those wonderful weavers who are participating in the Voufa initiative instigated by Maura Mckee, Sarah Dixon. These two women, one a weaver in Northern Ireland and one an artist in the UK have made great efforts to get more attention and interest from both designers and artists, especially in Cyprus, for one of the more unique traditional crafts of Cyprus, Fythkiotika weaving. Here on their website promoting Fythkiotika, is a report of a seminar Maura presented at the Frederick University in Lefkosia last year http://phitiotika.wordpress.com which includes a link to a video showing the process from start to finish of preparing the threads for the loom.
One of the women featured on the video, Mrs EIrini Diomidous, was working at her weaving when I arrived and I managed to have a chat with her. This was one of those occasions when I wished my Greek was a little more comprehensive as I wasn’t always able to get the finer details of what she was telling me but we managed. The large room in this restored old building was filled from floor to ceiling with fine examples of fythkiotika made by the women of the group. All the pieces were for sale, many of the designs were copies of old pieces, all were beautifully intricate. I of course came away with a few examples. One of them was this rather funky bag which looked like it has a silk lining in a hessian type weave, this I later parted with reluctantly as I’d bought it as a present for my sister.
The loom that Eirini uses has been in her family for a least a hundred years and is still going strong, with the handy use of chicken bones to hold certain things in place, this is common I’m told. Normally there would be a small wooden bobbin type mechanism .
Although visitors come from far and wide Eirini told me she would like to be able to sell more of the finished work as there is not enough trade at the moment to cover all the overheads as well as give the weavers a fair reward for their efforts. I’m sure there are many people who would love to own a piece of this unique work if only they were aware of it. Fyti is a small village found up on the lower slopes of the Troodos mountains halfway between Polis and Paphos. The scenery is spectacular up here and it makes a lovely excursion. The weavers also work in silk which they cultivate themselves. Above you will see a picture of some silk worms gorging themselves on the mulberry leaves and starting to work their cocoons. I found this video of how they grow silk worms and harvest silk in China, fascinating, obviously this is on a commercial scale.
It’s a good job smoking is no longer allowed in bars.
Close up of the intricate pattern
Old piece of Fythkiotika from Mrs Mavrelis at the Weaving & Folk art Museum in Fyti
Mrs Mavrellis at her loom.
Weavers at the Handicraft Centre weaving fythkiotika
My cousin Michael did a bit of scouting for me this week, he spotted an article in the Phileftherios paper, about a young designer Othonos Charalambous using Fythkiotika in his designs. He very kindly posted it to me and as it was all in Greek I cheated and looked him up online to find his website. My Greek is limited and although I can read Greek, it takes a lot of dictionary searching and time to get the meaning of articles.
This young designer is a Cypriot born in Cyprus but studied here in the UK and after gaining a Masters in menswear at the London college of Fashion has just launched his first full-scale collection. I was thrilled to read about this designer using such a traditional and well – loved weaving technique in his designs, through reading his short bio it’s clear he has great appreciation of the heritage and skill involved. http://www.othonascharalambous.com.
When researching online for ‘Androula’s Kitchen’ I came across a website called Phitiotika http://phitiotika.wordpress.com set up by two young British artists, Maura a weaver from Ireland and Sarah an artist. These two women felt great empathy for the weavers of Fyti the beautifully situated village high up on the hills near Paphos, a dwindling community like so many with no new generation coming along behind them to carry on their skills. Maura and Sarah set out on a quest to raise awareness and engagement in this dilemma. They worked in co-operation with the Laona Foundation http://www.conservation.org.cy to set up an umbrella association called Voufa under which the weavers could co-operate. Their greatest wish was to engage the interest of artists around the world as well as Cyprus and also to get a training scheme of some sort off the ground before these techniques become lost.
Fythkiotika is a well-known and well-loved weaving technique in Cyprus. In times, not that long ago, every woman would own a loom and know how to weave, this way of life has passed and will not return but there surely must still be young women who would like to learn these skills. The Handicraft Services in Nicosia have many weavers who practise this technique and teach so there is still a tentative continuation. It is refreshing to see a new generation of Cypriots taking an interest in these ancient skills wherein lies so much of the unique Cypriot identity. One of the ways to ensure the continuation of these skills is to find new ways of applying and promoting them. Bravo Othonos.
I received a beautiful surprise today, the postman delivered this purse sent by the weaver Rolandos in Cyprus. I’d interviewed him for my book and sent him a complimentary copy.As a token of his appreciation he made me this purse. Isn’t it fabulous?
On the packaging it describes it thus :-
“This herringbone technique, known since prehistoric times , is applied in the weaving of this piece, following the patterns of traditional Cypriot fabrics.
The fine weaving of such fabrics called ’twilled kyparrissota’ or ‘blocked’ during the 19th and 20th century AD put the now occupied areas of Karavas and Lapithos on the map, making them known for their woven silk fabrics.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago my friend Gill from Paisley Pedlar http://paisleypedlar.wordpress. and I had planned a trip to visit the Whitchurch Silk Mill and yesterday was the day. We were a bit apprehensive before the trip as the weather has been very disruptive with the snow and ice but once again fortune smiled on us and we set off on clear roads. Gill was driving and she decided to take the scenic route which goes through some lovely countryside up the Downs if you get my drift. Completely to our delight we came across this fabulous winter wonderland of trees completely covered in snow, looking ever so much as if a huge dredger of icing sugar had been liberally sprinkled. I have never seen anything like it before.
We arrived in good time at the mill and made our first call at the shop which is at the entrance. We became enraptured by the beautiful celebration silk which was produced last year as part of a feasibility study. The mill had not been in production for several months and now with a new board of directors it is hoped it will start producing again very soon. The shop has some lovely examples of the luxurious and high quality silks produced made into items such as table runners and very elegant doorstops as well as a delightful needlebooks and rosette ruffles.
The mill was built in 1815 and in its past wove the linings for Burberry’s based in nearby Alton, it was weaving right up until 1985 when The Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust bought it to preserve and restore it. In 1990 the mill was opened to the public under the management of The Whitchurch Silk Mill Trust.
The silk produced at the mill has been in demand in the recent past, by theatrical costumers and the cafe walls are lined with photos of the period production pieces as well as the many films and television productions which have featured Whitchurch Mill silks.
Organza, georgette, crepe, chiffon, dupion these names conjure up the variety and richness of texture into which silk thread is woven. The silk comes from all over the world as Britain is unable to produce any due to the climate. Although several of the looms were threaded up there were no weavers working that day. This was a disappointment to me as I would have loved to see the mechanised looms in action. But not to be outdone I had a go on a manual loom set up for visitors to try, complete with instructions. I have always loved silk fabric, the lustre of it gives the colours an eloquence and depth unrivalled by any other thread. The colours are gorgeous.
The river that runs by the mill was in full torrent due to the recent rainfall and a very large group of ducks were struggling against the flow. It certainly is a very picturesque spot and I hope they will continue weaving that fabulous silk very far into the future.
Troodos mountains offer a very modern infrastructure (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
After reading about the snow in Cyprus last week the snow has now also arrived in Tangmere today. I found a nice little article here at On This Island illustrating the extraordinary phenomenon that is Cyprus in winter, where you can go up to Troodos and ski in the morning then go down to the beach for a swim in the afternoon.
Goodwood in the Snow
My Bay tree in the snow
Tangmere in the snow
Tangmere churchyard St.Andrew’s
View on the Trundle
We don’t have quite enough snow here to ski although we do have a few hills where you can have fun sledding have you a mind to. If the snow is still around tomorrow and it looks as if it will be, I will be out with my camera and taking a few photos but not from a sled! I wanted to build a snowman earlier but when I poked my nose outside the door this morning it was snowing a veritable blizzard, so I brought it back in sharpish and decided that making bread would be more of a suitable pastime.
I’ve also been browsing the web of course, perfect day for it, I was reading a recent post by Cypriot and Proud which was on a topic I relish: artisan/designers. This post focuses on a young Cypriot weaver designer Joanna Louca who studied ‘Textile constructed design’ and then gained a masters in ‘Textile in Art’ at Middlesex University London. She now has a weaving studio in Cyprus where the textiles are produced and has collaborated with Italian designers to produce some wonderful bags. She also weaves her textiles to use in all manner of creative ways, I love her colour combinations and her patterns echo the traditional patterns used in Cyprus for centuries.
I was thrilled to see this article as it is a fervent wish of mine to see the valuable traditional crafts like weaving and basket making, being used by young artists designers to produce contemporary and exciting designs, looks like Joanna is doing just that. I love it. She will be someone I would very much like to visit in person on a future visit, to see those beautiful textiles for myself.
Joanna Louca’s work Photo courtesy of Cypriot and Proud
English: Whitchurch – Silk Mill The weaving room makes small run silk products. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I’m quite excited as in a couple of weeks I’m going on a little jaunt with my friend Gill to Whitchurch.
My friend Gill and I plan several little jaunts a year and like to go somewhere that offers some artistic and creative food for thought and often a good dose of inspiration with it. We have visited exhibitions at galleries and artists’ homes as well as having a good old mooch in an enriching and vibrant town. We usually have a lot of fun as well as gaining some creative enrichment.
Where is Whitchurch and what is there to see there? Well Whitchurch is a few miles north of Winchester, a very nice town in Hampshire, and there you will find a silk mill. http://whitchurchsilkmill.org.uk/ Now you don’t see many of these nowadays, certainly not functioning anyway and as readers of my blog will know I’m a bit of a loomy….. that is I have a long held fascination for them. I have a whole section on weaving in my book “Androula’s Kitchen-” and on one visit to Cyprus I met up with a weaver Rolandos Locaides, who is fascinated by the old patterns used in silk weaving in the past. When I visited he wasn’t weaving silk and I am interested to see some being woven close to.
Archive photo from Yerolakkos of Auntie Eugenia at her loom
Silk is such a fabulous fabric with it’s lustrous, shimmering sheen and that sensuous soft feel when you wear it. Although it can feel very cool on the skin and indeed is cool to wear in hot weather it is also a good insulator in winter if worn in layers. Of course it isn’t cheap to make as the yarn is acquired from the cocoons of a silk worm. I am looking forward to taking lots of photos and filling you in on my experience.
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 read the latest update on the Phitiotika Facebook page posting a link to the blog Threads that Connect Us. This is another project set up with some European Commission funding connecting several European partners, including Cyprus, in a project to promote and encourage learning of the traditional textile skills to enable them to continue through the next generations. In many of the regions taking part these traditional skills are looked on as something of the past, anachronistic and not relevant to the society of today, therefore not of any interest to the younger generations and so the skills are not passed on as they once were.
In the village of Lefkara the skills of their particular kind of embroidery have been passed down from mother to daughter and in some families is still today.
Textile skills such as: preparation of yarns, weaving, embroidery and so on are all activities that require patience as well as skill and necessitates the practitioners to have a certain mindset that is not generally encouraged by our fast paced living with the need for instant gratification. But the very fact that it requires sitting still and focusing on something gives it a meditative quality which is surely something that could benefit us all from time to time. A place to rest the mind from the pressures of modern life. Maybe it should be prescribed as an antidote to burn out… now there’s a thought.
Weavers at the Handicraft Centre weaving fythkiotika
I’m very excited …it doesn’t take much.
Today, while searching WordPress for other blogs relating to topics I cover in my book ‘Androula’s Kitchen’, I came across Phitiotika. It is a site set up by two British artists Maura McKee and Sarah Dixon, they both have connections with Cyprus and had a strong empathy with the weavers of Fyti who are struggling to keep their weaving traditions alive in a dwindling village. They, like myself, feel there should be a way to carry on the strong traditions and heritage of weaving in Cyprus, through the younger generations by encouraging innovation and diversity.
Throughout the centuries Cyprus has had a reputation for fine weaving. Each region had their own specialities and styles. At one time their was an abundance of silk and silk weaving was commonplace. Each family would own a loom and the women of the household wove all the linen needed for everyday life including their clothing and bedding. Silk worms were cultivated, cotton grown and there were plenty of sheep to supply wool. Silk is no longer cultivated and the weaving of silk has not been practised in Cyprus since the 1960s. Life has changed rapidly and people live different lives where there is no necessity to make everything themselves with mass production and cheap imports.
Fyti, in the Paphos region of Cyprus, has a very particular style of weaving which incorporates patterns of coloured wools. The patterns are mostly geometric and each weaver would make their own patterns usually telling a story. Maura McKee and Sarah Dixon are working together with The Laona Foundation to come up with a plan for conserving and recording the weaving practises of Fyti while setting in place initiatives which will encourage Cypriot artists to embrace and improvise on this valuable heritage as well as academics, artists, textile collectors and weavers internationally, with the help of the internet. Sarah has experience of working on cultural and conservation projects in several countries. Their aim:
“The aim of this proposed project is to reinvigorate and recontextualise Phiti weaving, and to support Phiti weavers in their practice. We are setting out to catalyse a process of conserving and adapting tradition.”
You can find out more on their blog, the link is on the blogroll and join their Facebook page.
I wish them both every success in this endeavour as this issue is close to my heart.