Friday, March 6, 2015

Cyprus textiles: Printed Scarves

Being a small country, Cyprus has surprisingly a lot to offer to a textile lover. It may be due to the rich heritage and geographic position on the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East. The Island is a cultural melting pot, and living here you are likely not only to encounter the expected Greek and Turkish heritage but also to find traces of old Europe and, especially, the Middle East.

At various points in its history, Cyprus was ruled by the Egyptians, the Romans, French crusaders, Richard Lionheart, the Templar Knights, the Venetians, the Ottomans, and the Brits. The development of crafts reflects this rich history, often imported, fusing with local heritage and growing roots. Such is the history of the printed scarf as well. I was fascinated by the simplistic beauty of Cypriot printed scarves having seen only a few examples just when I arrived in Nicosia. Now, one and half year later I also had an opportunity to visit a dedicated exhibition at the Leventis Municipal Museum that features the process as well as the finished product. 

Printed scarves were first made in Nicosia during the 18th and 19th centuries. Mantilarides, or scarf makers, printed the scarfs on a light cotton mousseline using olive or oak tree moulds, which featured fine floral designs. Plants and animal dyes were used to create beautiful rich colours.  The scarves were then hemmed and decorated with intricate crocheted trims. 


The art of dyeing was developed in Cyprus throughout the medieval period. Dye-workers in Nicosia used mostly plant and mineral-based dyes manufactured on the island creating indelible colours for textiles.

Local plants used for creating dyes for printing traditional Cypriot scarves,
featured at the Printed Scarves exhibition at the Leventis Municipal Museum in Nicosia, Cyprus

"Aside from pigments, calico printers and scarf makers employed materials such as stypse, (alum), a well-known mineral used as a mordant for fixing the dyes and kettires, the gum tragacanth, used for making the dye thicker and preventing the colour from spreading across the fabric, during the printing process. 
For dyeing a scarf, old craftsmen used to prepare the basis, by using mazin (gall nut) imported from Turkey, in combination with kehrin, in boiled water with stypse. When the kehrin, brought to Cyprus from Anatolia, later became hard to find, the roudin was used in its place, the common name for sumac, with ro(d)ofylla (pomegranate peel)." -(Leventis Municipal Museum)


The fabric, usually very fine cotton mousseline, was cut into a square piece of 32 by 32 inches. The printing started with applying the border pattern, with the help of oblong stamps. Then, corner patterns, or milies, were stamped onto a scarf.

At this point a white and black scarf was ready for the application of the background and fill colours. Sometimes, those white scarfs were sold as is, I was told. Because they involved less labour they were more affordable.

The printing and dyeing process at the last workshop in Nicosia included the following stages:
  • The karakalemi, the black design, was printed with the first stamp, the mana. Where needed, it was modified with a brush. Following that the scarves were hung out near a stove to dry, but also to allow the paint to solidify through heat. Then they were gathered in bundles of eleven scarves, the so-called touroes, washed in clean water and hung for drying.
  • Using stamps with only the outline of the design, devoid of other details, they covered the printed design with gum in order to protect it from the next dying of the earth, the zeminin (Turk. zemin = basis, ground). By means of ketsedes (tow), they spread zeminin across the entire surface of the scarf, excluding patterns covered in gum.
  • The dyed scarves were then hung on ropes, horizontally for drying. The following day, they were gathered up from the ropes and kept together in a bag of 24 touroes, which corresponded to a dye container load, the kazania.
  • Last, the scarves were washed and soaked one by one in a container of hot water and red dye solution."  - Leventis Municipal Museum


The trims for the scarves were hand-crocheted, usually after the purchase of the scarf. Later, a special machine simplified the labour-intensive process by creating simple trims that can be founds on contemporary scarves. Of course, it cannot compete with the fragile beauty of a hand-crocheted flower trim, which in some scarves is the highlight. In fact, next week I am planning to go to a hands-on presentation by one of a few remaining trim-makers and will try to reproduce it.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

On My Sewing Table: Chantilly Lace Skirt

I can't have enough skirts - they are just the most versatile pieces in my wardrobe. You can dress them down or up, you can never get bored with skirts.

Prada, who is a truly skirt designer,  said  in an interview with New York Times:
"The skirt is a feminine symbol, and it's also something you wear every day. It's my T-shirt."
I could not agree more, and so, even though I am planning to focus on tops this year, skirts are still high on my agenda.

This project-in-progress is a simple straight skirt, with the lace being the main attraction.

I bought this Chantilly lace at Komolka, my favorite fabric store in Vienna since my student years in Austria. It has been waiting to be sewn for a year now, and, finally, I am ready to cut into it and plan to use couture sewing techniques to make the skirt. I love good planning, and so here are some thoughts on the construction:

To begin with, I will back the lace with silk organza. I have done both, organza and double muslin-charmeuse backing on skirts and find that organza can withhold tension quite well. And I'd really prefer lighter feel to a skirt like this.

Since I am using a different, brighter hue of blue for organza underlining to bring up the lace, I may run into some issues with darts when several layers of fabric in dart intake create areas of a different tone. Now, I can treat this as a design element, or I can conceal that dart intake  by sandwiching a piece of lining fabric in-between. At this point, however,  I am not even sure whether that's going to be such a big problem, the lace pattern may conceal the darts on its own... but potentially this is something that needs to be checked before finishing the skirt.

I need a center back seam to be able to accommodate a slit, so the zipper will be inserted into that seam as well. I would have picked an invisible zipper (not a very couture treatment I am afraid), but the lace motifs are outlined with a very fine cord, and I am pretty sure that every now and then this cord will get caught in the zipper. In addition, the pattern is quite prominent, so even if I wanted to overlap it (you can see a fine example of this technique on Leisa blog) it would not turn out well. That leaves me with the only other option - hand-picked zipper.

Navy blue silk crepe-de-chine will be used as lining, making the skirt very wearable in hot summer months in Nicosia.

Finally, I will again make a faced couture waistband, with lace on the face side, and silk crepe-de-chine on the wrong side. Grosgrain ribbon will be inserted in the waistband to add stability to it.

I will try to document some steps, and if you are interested in one of these techniques I will be happy to make a tutorial, just mention what you are interested in in a comment here. I would also love to hear from you about your experience working with Chantilly lace. 

Getting back to the subject of skirt...
"...Ms. Prada says she never gets bored with the skirt, and maybe that's because she does see it, in the end, as your basic rock concert T-shirt, to be dyed, printed, embellished. In the last few years she has experimented with prints made from digitalized images, and the results, when combined with lurid color or draping techniques, testify to her vision, as well as the skirt's surprising power."


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