Lafkos is a beautiful village with a long and interesting history, high on the southern Pelion Peninsula. Its old stone buildings, strongly fortified against invaders, showcase traditional building methods, featuring intricate stonework and wood carving, much of it still well preserved.
Beyond the immediate hilltop huddle of historic buildings around the church and village square are more modern structures, built as the village expanded. Most are now constructed of brick, but are still designed in the Pelioritic style as required by the building regulations which seek to preserve the character of the Pelion region.
One such new building is the Lagou Raxi Country Hotel which occupies a beautiful spot overlooking the Pagasitic Gulf, on land which would have been well outside the safe environs of the village in the earlier period. Tracts of land here on the peninsula still carry the descriptive names they were given long ago, and the hotel takes its name from the area on which it’s built: Lagou Raxi, pronounced Lagou Rachi. This refers, so I’m told, to the shape of the ridge or spine (rachi) of ground which resembles the back of a hare (lagos). It’s also been suggested that this had been an excellent hunting ground for hare in former times, and may have contributed to its being so named.
The hotel has a large conference room and it’s here that some of the local homeowners agreed to mount an exhibition of their kilims – flat woven rugs and carpets. These heirlooms were woven on handmade wooden looms by women of their families in generations past, and most of them are of quite some age.
I was able to attend the opening night of the exhibit and met Mrs Athena Biniari who has some of her family’s beautiful kilims on display. She very kindly spent considerable time discussing with me the traditional methods used to create kilims, blankets, cushions and similar soft furnishings for the home in a time when all such items were manufactured within the household, as they were throughout the Balkans and beyond. In some parts of the Balkans the practice continues, as it does among nomadic tribes in Asia and North Africa who are renowned for their woven artifacts.
Mrs Biniari fondly remembers childhood days of spinning wool yarn on a drop spindle for her grandmother, who would weave in the courtyard of the home during the summer months. Other ladies recall that weaving was more of a winter activity, when days were long. Distribution of labour within the household and the community must have meant that some had more leisure time than others, of course, but the fact remains that the production of any form of textile in these days was a time-consuming process.
Every inch of yarn had to be produced by hand; every colour was the result of hand dyeing processes. Dyestuffs had to be collected from the natural materials that provided them, and the dyepots had to be mixed. Extensive knowledge was required, and passed down from generation to generation. We should not forget that in earlier times most needlework was done after the day’s work was completed, and by lamp or candlelight. And done with such care, such pride. I am in awe.This expertly woven rug is quite plain in that it’s woven in stripes, which is obviously quicker than weaving more intricate designs, but its relative simplicity is offset by the wonderfully exuberant edging. Imagine making all those deliciously plump pompons, and with no modern pompon-making devices to speed up the work. I hope the maker enjoyed doing this as much as I have enjoyed seeing it. It really caught my eye, and I can just imagine how delighted my cats would be if such an enticing rug were gracing my floor.
The warp threads form this very simple edging, but so lavishly
coloured is this carpet that nothing more is needed.
Note the vases of flowers motif as an alternating band in the middle rug.
I’m not sure if these three rugs were all woven by the same person, but the display itself commands attention, highlighting as it does the variety of colors and motifs.The natural materials here – wood and wool – make for an arresting arrangement. The rug on the right is completed with a fairly typical knotted edging, but the one on the left is the only example I have seen of this very unusual crocheted motif edge treatment. It’s quite striking, employing as it does a different form of textile artistry and skill. I’d like to find out more about this particular rug and whether it had one maker or was it a collaboration? The ability to combine all manner of stitching and of textiles, into a coherent whole is one of the enduring appeals of the needlearts. These kilims are draped to advantage over hessian, on an old handmade chest, in which they were probably stored. The forests of the Pelion, though now much reduced in size by the inevitable encroachment of the centuries, still abound with hardwoods of many types from which some lovely antique pieces of furniture were fashioned. I believe this chest is made of chestnut; note the handcarved dovetail joints. Note the crocheted and braided edgings to this woven cushion cover. The owner has taken pains to preserve and display these damaged pieces which have the appearance of being part of a large carpet, and may indeed be, but given that one piece is edged with tassels, and the other with bobbles, I think they are in fact salvaged from two different kilims. This beauty appears to have been damaged while stored; the blue areas are the underlay that was used to display it on. If you look closely, you will see that it was feasted upon precisely along the seam where the two pieces were carefully joined to create this large carpet. The precision with which the pieces were woven, so that the intricate pattern remained unbroken when they were seamed together, speaks to the meticulous work of the weaver. The damage suggests to me that it was folded on the seam line when it was put away, and makes the case that textiles in storage be examined frequently to inspect for unwanted guests munching away. Lafkos is a small village, well off the beaten track, so unfortunately this exhibition hasn’t received anything like the attention it deserves, but the exhibitors I had the privilege of speaking with expressed the desire to showcase more of their textile treasures in the future. Yes please!