Tinsmiths visit to Carpathian Mountains with Experience Ukraine

Tinsmiths Ukranian Visit Posted by Phoebe Clive

In a bid to make my lifestyle business provide me a lifestyle that takes me beyond the office I booked a ‘Textiles Tour’ of the Trans Carpathian region of Ukraine.

I have long been fascinated by the culture and folk art of the people of the Carpathian Mountain region and when I saw that Nataliya (Experience Ukraine www.experienceukraine.co.uk) was running a textile based tour I saw my chance to find out more about this region.

My visit was filled with wonder and delight, but I of course realise that the insight that I gained during a one week visit is limited. This posting is a record of my visit, with my own reflections on what I found to be a most beautiful region.

Abandoned farmhouse – completely built of wood including wooden shingles on the roof.

Our first night was spent in Ivano Frankivsk (Stanislav until 1962), a busy and beautiful town with a multitude of churches and lingerie shops! From there our patient driver traversed the very challenging Ukrainian roads across country to Kolomyya which houses a fascinating museum of Hutsul culture and folk art. The Hutsuls are the people who have inhabited this mountainous region for the last thousand years and who have quite a distinct way or life and culture.

The textiles, costume, carving and ceramics traditionally produced in the region are really wonderful. Of course Hutsul folk-art is made from what is plentiful and like mountain dwelling people throughout the world, this includes much wool and wood. With bold sureness of expression, textiles and ceramics display all of the influences which have swept to and fro across this area historically; Austro- Hungarian, Russian, Western European and Ottoman.

After these gentle introductions to Ukraine the market at Kosiv proved to be total immersion. A market in the broadest and most vigorous sense; trading, meeting, eating and drinking in a temporary world which exists for twelve hours every week. With avenues devoted to butter, to cheese, to socks (hand knitted locally), to sheepskins (gorgeous but mainly from Poland), to Lizhnyk (traditional wool blankets, more on these later), to tractor parts, to harnesses, to honey, to….. well just about anything that you might be able to make or gather and that someone else might want. Our host in the mountains in was Svetlana. With a small holding in a valley alongside a fast flowing mountain river, in recent years Svetlana and her family have invested in a felting mill for the local Lizhnyk weavers to finish their blankets, a fish farm for very small scale raising of organic trout and tourist accommodation in a very comfortable chalet. Generous and super-efficient she produced a series of delicious meals all made from the freshest produce, organised the felting mill and ran her family home.

Olympic standard log stacking!

Whilst based at Svetlana’s we found out much more about the local production of Lizhnik. Lizhnik are woolen blankets hand woven with the most minimal inputs of any textile I can think of. The fleeces is carefully sorted into colours and tones, then picked through, then washed twice in the mountain streams. Once washed it is sorted through again prior to spinning. The warps are spun reasonably finely, the weft is spun very thickly and with minimal twist. Most of the women in the village have a loom for weaving Lizhnik and their weaving fits in around milking cows, looking after children and all the other chores involved with running a family and small holding.

Many weavers stick to traditional patterns such as ‘Hutsul Eye’, however some are much more adventurous varying traditional motifs with contemporary designs. Once woven the blankets must be felted, for this they are taken to one of the mills like Svetlana’s where they are immersed and tumbled in the pure mountain water for up to 6 hours. The Lizhnik blankets provide a vital additional income to the households in this village and meeting the Lizhnik weavers, and in particular Bogdana and her family who very patiently tried to teach me the basics of Lizhnik weaving was an absolute privilege. Bogdana, her Mother and her son Stanislav made my days weaving enormous fun, we often got rather distracted into English and Ukrainian lessons and this combined with Mama’s amazing Ukrainian hospitality meant that my progress as a Lizhnik weaver was somewhat limited!

Lizhnik blankets being pulled out of the churning mill where they wash and felt for 4-6 hours after weaving​