Weaving Tour To Carpathians
Liz Davies and I had discussed for years the possibility of going on a weaving trip to Ukraine, after meeting up with Nataliya Cummings from Experience Ukraine at Hellen’s Manor. We had pored longingly over Nataliya’s beautiful photographs of the unspoilt countryside in the Carpathian Mountains and envisaged being there.
We chose the Lizhnyk Rug Weaving Tour and decided to go in June. Luckily Wizz Air, yes! had just started a direct flight from Luton to Lviv. This was perfect as we were met there by Nataliya, her friend and colleague Tanya, together with our driver for the duration of the trip, Vlad .We were driven to the village of Yavoriv which is the centre of Lizhnyk culture in Ukraine. It was a small group of six people from England joined by a couple from Atlanta, Georgia.
The long journey broken up with a stop for lunch in the city of Ivano-Franivsk. Here we had a magnificent feast at a restaurant (Family Restaurant Muliarovyh),that had been the grand home of a rich aristocrat who frequently held salons there. It was a treasure trove of Hutsul Culture which included a small museum.
The journey through the countryside showed sharp contrast between the beauty of the unspoilt countryside, strips of land worked on by hand and bleak Soviet built coal fired electricity stations belching out black smoke, pollution. Poverty showed in the very poor state of the roads as we travelled deeper into the Carpathian Mountains.
Our home in Yavoriv was a wooden cabin straddling a fast flowing mountain stream which provided a natural jacuzzi in the basement for felting the Lizhnyk Rugs. At night I was lulled to sleep by the sound of flowing water. Our host was Svetlana, whose hospitality was exemplary, we were generously presented with the most delicious meals made from the freshest home grown produce. The butter and cheese made from the milk of her cows. We experienced the warm Ukrainian hospitality when the villagers welcomed us into their homes and shared their extraordinary skills and culture,this included a lot of music, singing and dancing.
Most of the women in the village had a weaving workshop, the rugs provided income for the household. Spinning and weaving would fit around all the chores that running a smallholding entails, not a moment was wasted. In the area each village would specialise in the crafts that made up the Hutsul Culture i.e. wood carving, embroidery, pottery, basket making and weaving.
Each one of us was introduced to our personal weaver from the village and we would spend the rest of the time weaving in their home.
My weaver was Hanna.This proved to be very creative and great fun trying to find ways of communicating through mime and gesture. The techno savvy amongst us used their phones for translation. The wool for the rugs came from the sheep of the Carpathian Mountains. The fleeces sorted in natural colours, picked through and washed twice in the mountain streams.
Once washed it was carded into large cushions of soft fleece. The warp was finely spun in white and the weft thickly spun, with minimum of twist, suitable for the final felting. All this was done on a wooden spindle,not hanging vertically as we are familiar with but worked horizontally. This I found high on impossible to master, despite the endless patience shown by Hanna. I was greatly relieved to hear that everyone in the group had failed to master it,as the demonstrations made it look so easy.
The weaving was easier, the looms large and rustic with 2 shafts. There were two widths 1.5m and 2m which would accurately provide the finished width for medium and large rugs after felting. Because of the width, one stood to weave, changing the shed by securing the pedal in a notch.
This kept the shed open whilst you walked from one end of the loom to the other, feeding the soft ball of wool manually through the shed. By manipulation and use of the various colours a variety of patterns could be achieved. The traditional one being the Hutsul Eye.
I found the process extremely satisfying, in the peace and tranquility handling the raw wool, gave one such a strong connection with the weaving. Once the rug was finished, it was ceremoniously thrown into the turbulent mountain water of the jacuzzi and tumbled for 4-6 hours, examined intermittently to see if felted to the right dimensions. We all proudly returned home with our own traditional Lizhnyk Rug.
There were a few diversions from weaving to explore the richness of the area. Farming practices have remained unchanged for generations, resulting in wildflower meadows that made you gasp with their beauty and diversity.
In contrast to this tranquility we visited Kosiv market, the largest craft and textile market in Western Ukraine.
It was impossible to get around all the stalls in time, a vibrant ,busy place trading all kinds of goods imaginable. The most bizarre being, soft handmade cheese modelled into animal shapes, dried and sold by the kilo.
We ended our trip in Lviv where the buzz of city life contrasted with the peace of the countryside, that proved to be unsettling.
The planning and organisation was unique, we would never have been able to visit such remote and humble villages without expert guidance and have such personal experiences of the community that brought with it a feeling of pure joy.
You can join Lizhnyk Weaving and Embroidery Tour with Experience Ukraine this year in June as well.