• July 6, 2014
  • 104

The exhibition of 50-year-old Vilnius coverlets: Grandma’s wardrobe treasures

Upon visiting to the Visitor Centre of the Neris Regional Park, one unwittingly directs one’s eyes towards the beautifully displayed folk coverlets with geometric pattern. These handworks were woven fifty years ago by Michalina Łuczun nee Szumska- an inhabitant of the Wierkszany village( the Vilnius Region).

”The visitrs’ opinions are very positive. The admire the expressiveness of the patterns, geometric and intricate works. Frequently, they recall the coverlets woven by their mothers and grandmothers and compare them to the ones displayed at the exhibition by searching for similarities and differences in patterns.”- said Karolina Tamasauskaite, a specialist from the Neris Regional Park.

The coverlets displayed at the exhibition date back to the 1960-1965. Unfortunately, the author born in the distant 1920 is no longer among us. Irena Karpavicene- the granddaughter of Michalina Łuczun was the person who decided to bring her grandmother’s coverlets to daylight and present them to a wider audience. It was her to suggest  the exhibition of her grandmother’s works to the Board of thge forementioned park. Currently, with our market being flooded with cheap and artificial Chinese products, we started to cherish the handworks of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers anew.

Generational heritage

In order to know more about the woving tradition in the Wierkszany village, I went to this village so as to seek for the  Michalina Łuczun’s descendants. At the door of a wooden house I was greeted by her daughter- Jadwiga Zemaitiene nee Łuczun who immediately invited me inside.

When entering the house I promptly noticed a bed bedded with a pink and white coverlet with geometric pattern, and colorful crocheted pillows. The cover,being  almost 50 years old, shone with pink as newly bought and the woolen-linen fabric itself was retained in a perfect condition.

”There are not many of my mother’s works in the house since almost all of them are now being displayed in the Centre”- emphasised Ms. Jadwiga at first. But deep in the drawer, there was her favourite  subtly white coverlet resembling whitened linen, which she showed me at once.

Michalina Łuczun was one of the few wovers in the village. Women with no on weaving facilities used to come to her. Ms. Michalina, on the other hand, possessed the looms passed down by her mother Urszula Szumska who left Poland after the repatriation.

”I remember very well, how my mother’s friends gathered at our house. Before the actual woving, they mutually created and drew ornaments in a checked notebook. They prepared the workshop together, because one person would not have managed to do that by their own.”- the interlocutor recalls.

Fabric from her own household

The fabric was obtained from our own linen plantations and sheep-breeding. As Ms. Jadwiga recalls, obtaining a linen thread recqiured a lot of work.

”The linen gathered from the field was first wetted in the water in order to become softer. Then it was combed with brushes and patted. I used to have all the tools, but they get destroyed with time.
And the workshop has not been wholly retained.”- told the Wierkszany’s inhabitant. The wool, she added, was also dyed by women themselves. Initially they did so by means of natural dyes, then they bought the artificial ones, from Kaunas.

On Ms. Michalina’s coverlets, most often two colours are dominating. Colourful and patterned coverlets were used not only to lay the bed. They also used to be hung on walls as decorations, one could cover oneself with them when in sleigh or during chilly weather.

The black and white ones, as Ms. Jadwga pinpointed, were woven especially for funerals. They were spread under a coffin, hung on a wall or windows in front of a coffin or covered a vehicle transporting the deceased. There were also the everyday coverlets and some special ones meant for holidays. ”Mum would not let us use the special coverlets during the week”- said the interlocutor.

Everyday craft

Neither Ms. Jadwiga Zemaitiene nor her daughter Irena continues the family woving tradition. Her mother and grandmother- Michalina Łuczun- was the last knowledgeable person in this realm.

”As a 17-year-old I left to work in Vilnius. Mum vehemently opposed to any of her children( I have two brothers) working in kolkhoz. After the war, a lot of young people eloped to towns. That is why I did not manage to learn woving but, also at a younger age, I was not particularly eager to start learning. I am not especially keen on crochetting or knitting either. Apparently, I did not grow into my mother”-said Ms. Jadwiga.

As our interlocutor said, her mother was occupied by woving mainly during winter evenings, since there was more spare time and less to do in kolkhoz.

”When my mother sets her workshop in a room in the late autumn, it would stay there almost till the end of the winter”- Zemaitiene says. She underlined that on Sunday, a holiday, her mother would never weave.

And how much did it take to weave one coverlet? According to Ms.Jadwiga, if her mother dedicated every evening to it, the coverlet would be ready in a month.

”Mum had a lot of coverlets. There was five of us in the house, so each bed had to be made. Moreover my mum used to gave the covers to her family: to daughters-in-law, to grandchildren, for dowries. But she never sold coverlets. She gave them only as gifts.”-told Ms.Michalina’s daughter. And there have always been a lot of people eager to have the self-woven things, both in the past and today. Jadwiga Zemaitiene knows from her mother’s stories that once the village was visited by different people purchasing old items. Yet, despite hard times and lack of money, Ms. Michalina never sold any fabrics or pictures to anyone.

Priceless cultural value

As Ms. Jadwiga said, women used to weave not of aesthetic but of practical reasons.

”Mother used to say that when you can’t weave you have nothing to make your bed with. It was indeed true. Many used the duvet both to cover themselvesc at night, and as a coverlet during the day. Then you could not buy everything in the shop.”- said Zemaitiene.

Did people admire those coverlets? ”Rather not, because you could see similar ones in almost every household both in this village and in the neighbouring ones”. The ones to praise it were only the guests coming from faraway. ”Michasia, maybe I could get this pattern from you?- friends often used to exchange patterns and experience”- says the interlocutor. As she later on recalls, her mother was an active weaver until the 60s-70s of the last century. However, once the children left home there was no need anymore to have a lot of coverlets for there weren’t many beds that needed to be covered. What is more, Ms. Michalina had then poorer sight as well.

Ms. Jadwiga greatly admires her mother who, apart from the strenuous work in the kolkhoz, raising a few children, running the household, also managed to find some time for weaving.

Summing up our talk, Ms. Jadwiga expressed her doubt as to whether the display of the old country coverlets is going tio attract the attention of today’s youth and the inhabitants of Wierkszany.

”Who would go there to watch them, anyway?…- she modestly said when good-bying.

Fortunately, the initiative of her daughter Irena and postive responses of the exhibition’s visitors prove that people are remarkably interested in the of their ancestors not only serving as an example of meticulousness and patience, but have also left us so valuable cultural value.

Iwona Klimaszewska

Translated by Katarzyna Piskorz within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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