Whichever way you spell it, the kilims shown in the last entry radiate with colour. I was almost overwhelmed when I entered the dazzling display area on a rather grey wintry evening. Colour leapt out at me. Colour embraced me. Colour cheered and colour warmed me.
This impressive exhibit was expertly curated by Magda Karastathis on behalf of the Lafkos Community Association. Magda studied at the prestigious Athens School of Fine Arts and taught at schools in Patras, Athens and Volos before her recent retirement. Her family is from the Lafkos/Milina area: Lafkos, the ancient fortified village on the hilltop, which afforded more protection from invaders and pirates; Milina, now a beautiful village on the Pagasitic Gulf, but only a fishing spot in those very early days.
Summer visitors to the Pelion Peninsula are often surprised to hear that we have a distinct winter season. They’re even more stunned to learn that snow’s not uncommon, and that Mt Pelion has a ski resort. Winters are not usually severe, but there are many dreary days for we have the typical winter rainfall of the Mediterranean climate. If grey’s your colour, take your pick of shades, but it’s not mine and so, still steeped in the saturated colours of the exhibited kilims, I dived into my yarn stash the next day.
The bobbles and tassels had really caught my imagination!
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.
This display makes me catch my breath, and when I think of the work involved, in addition to the weaver’s everyday household load of chores, I’m amazed.
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!
I’ve mentioned PAWS before; this tiny little charity does good work here on the Pelion finding homes for the innumerable homeless cats and dogs, in addition to conducting sterilisation programmes as often as funds and volunteers allow. In the words of the song: “Money! Money! Money!” and PAWS does all it can to raise some.
In April last year PAWS took a table at a bazaar being held in Lafkos in order to sell donated goods such as books, plants, cakes.
My husband and I had been in Texas for several months; I flew back alone ahead of him and made the journey up to Volos from Athens by bus. Friends very kindly picked me up and filled me in about the goings-on during our absence. We discussed the fundraiser being held in less than two weeks, and the need for items. “I’ll make a doll to raffle,” my tired, jetlagged self announced.
Ah, what Dolly folly.
I started that very night, for my sleep patterns had of course taken a direction of their own. I managed to dig out a doll pattern from my collection, noticing dimly that the pattern pieces seemed rather large. A suitable piece of muslin for the body came to hand, and I began cutting out legs, arms, a gusseted body, as well as some involved shapes for the face and head.
Hmm, it did seem a little more sophisticated than the stick figure ragdolls I’d sewn up for bazaars and fairs in the past. The animals had missed us, so much help was forthcoming from various cats who found the rustling tissue paper pattern irresistible. Such fun!
Finally the cutting was done and so was I, heading off to bed with the rising sun.
By mid-morning a few doubts set in. What on earth had I taken on? I briefly debated making a much smaller doll, tossed out that idea and set to work at the sewing machine. Fortunately interruptions were few and I could make my own hours, but Dolly was a most demanding piece of work. She was unwieldy to sew; her head and face were well designed, but finicky, and her body seemed alarmingly huge.
Parts of her had to be stuffed before being joined to other segments and it soon became clear that I had nowhere near enough fiberfill to complete the task. Not only was I in no position to zap to Volos, I seriously doubt that I could have found what I needed there anyway. That problem was solved by gutting the pillows of the guest beds, but the question of her outfit began to raise its head.
My fabric and yarn stashes are well stocked, so materials wouldn’t be a problem, but time would. I pressed on.
Her face was done fairly quickly – I opted for a very basic look. Ah, my button jars, how do I love thee, but hair! And no, not the musical. How was I going to do hair? That turned out to be the most difficult part of getting Dolly together.
I should, in retrospect, have dealt with her hair before attaching the head to the body as Dolly became very unwieldy and every attempt to get her well coiffed only succeeded in a look that would have fitted in well for Halloween.
I resorted to three different knitting yarns, but the end result, after a ridiculous amount of work, can only be described as a great disappointment, and that’s putting it kindly.
A skirt was easily made; her sweater took more time. The Saturday morning market in the village provided knickers – a child’s age four – for Dolly is slim of hip, and cheerful socks in a woman’s size.
I finished her that afternoon, ready to send her out into the world with a few necessities in a cute little reticule (a repurposed confetti sachet) and a touch of adornment in the form of a bead bracelet.
Early the next day, good friends came to fetch us, Dolly and me, and we drove up to Lafkos. Dolly sure did attract attention for she had not been seen in public before then, but she was quietly gracious, allowing herself to be photographed with admirers, smiling all the while, performing her duties without complaint, while we sold raffle tickets on her behalf.
By late afternoon the bazaar was coming to an end and we got ready to draw the winning ticket. The box was shaken, we stirred the slips of paper around, and then, to great excitement, a ticket was pulled out. The number was read, the lists consulted, and we had a winner!
Hooray! We were thrilled to discover that our lucky ticket holder was the most enchanting little girl; a local child, she’s fluent in English and Greek and has the sweetest disposition. The family had already left, but we called and before long she arrived with her father to claim Dolly.
I think our winner was almost in shock, but she thanked us beautifully – her manners are impeccable – and stood patiently while we oohed and aahed and took pictures. As you can see, she and Dolly are about the same size. Dolly lucked out too, for she’s much loved; I was delighted.
The day had been a great success, raising some much needed funds for PAWS, but as with all charities, there’s never enough money and we continue our efforts. This year we held a barbecue at which we sold tickets for various raffles, and guessed the weight of a cake. I donated a doll, but one which I picked out at a store.