Is it really true that Greek life is often a more creative and free life? Yes, I know what you’re thinking: you can find creativity and freedom in every country. I only partially agree with you: it is you yourself who decide how you want to live BUT..
Greece is a truly unique combination: the beautiful nature, the wonderful climate, the friendly and helpful people and the organized chaos. Here you do not need your creativity to create more beauty just to live and survive.
Why we choose to move and stay in other countries?
There are various reasons why we choose to move and stay in other countries. What makes us fall in love with another country so strongly that we leave home? What factors contribute to our staying in the countries we chose? And is it really true that Greek life is often a more creative and free life? I met Trudy Alijk, one of our landlords i Stoupa, over a cup of cafe in her in her workshop to listen to her story.
“This is it, this is what I have been missing all my life”
Hi Trudy, I am very happy that you found time for me and would like to answer my questions. How old were you when you visited Greece for the first time? And what part of Greece was it?
TA: I was 16 and it was a big part of the main land as we were 10 children in the age group of 13-18 with an interrail card and as long as a train was going there, we went. I remember though driving into Athens one day at sunset and thinking :”This is it, this is what I have been missing all my life”. It was the organised chaos I enjoyed. I came to live here in 1981 and never left.
Impressive long time and lots of memories and tales from your Greek life. Do you remember your first memories of “living for real” in Greece?
TA: My first memories of “living for real in Greece” was the going out on the Plateia’s at night and just hanging out with friends and enjoying the cool of the evening.
Did you live in other parts of Greece or was Mani and Stoupa your first choice? And why Stoupa?
TA: I lived in Athens for a while in 1975 and on Limnos for two years (1981-83), then in Stoupa for the rest of the time. In Stoupa I found my ex husband, that’s where he was born and lived.
I myself met you on the occasion of your rental business but you are also a creator?
TA: Yes, I create. I make something of waste, stuff that is thrown away by the locals and not used anymore as it used to be.
So recycling or back to the past time? What do you collect?
TA: I up-cycle. Not back to the past but finding new ways to use the material once used by the locals. I collect the wool when the sheep are sheared and in June the hair from long haired goats and make them into carpets and wall hangings.
Both spinning and weaving are traditional textile skills in Greece culture and mythology as well, did you work already with that before you came to Greece? Why were you interested in spinning and weaving carpets at all?
TA: Before I came to live here I visited Meteora and saw the old ladies working on the looms there and making the most beautiful things. That’s when I started to be interested and when I came to live in Greece I asked a carpenter on Limnos to make me a loom, so he made me a simple two shaft Greek loom.
Who was your teacher? And do you have a Master in this art you practice?
TA: I am self-taught. My mother found a book from a Danish writer about weaving and I just took it from there. I transferred the simple two shaft Greek loom into a six shaft countermarch loom to be able to make more patterns as they are created with relief. Some patterns I make have more than 70 different counts in the warp and in the weft, so reasonably complicated. I am now in the process of turning that loom into a 12 shaft loom for additional complexity. In my work, I simply follow my feelings and trust they will lead me to a good result.
Can you tell us more about the process of creating? You start by taking home sheepskin and then?
TA: I wash the wool, dry it and then pass it through a very rough carder to tear the wool apart and to be able to pass it after that through a fine carder several times. The colors are created by putting goats hair in the wool (also locally sourced from Greek long-hair mountain goats).
Then the wool has to be spun on a spinning wheel. I also spin only goats hair into a thread, which is difficult as wool has little hooks and sticks together but hair doesn’t. I am often told that this is not possible, but I seem to have mastered a technique to spin hair. Then I have to set up the loom which is a long and complicated process as part of the pattern is already created there. One mistake on the 244 threads that I have to pass through the shafts and the comb and you will see it in the final weaving.
Much work and many hours! Almost similar to an exercise in patience. What is the spinning and weaving process for you?
TA: It is the kick of making from something smelly and unattractive (I only use local wool from sheep that are not kept on neat little grasslands like in North Europe) something beautiful and long lasting, something to be proud of. Patience may not actually be one of my virtues, but in this process I certainly need to dig deep at times to find it!
Spinning and weaving were important tasks for the vast majority of women in Ancient Greece. Which of the Greek goddesses did you think was the master of spinning and weaving?
TA: It was Athena, but I personally think that the mythical figure of Arachne who was not a goddess earned the title more.
Are you working with commissioned jobs too i.e to order? And how long time can that take from A to B?
TA: I have not yet taken commissions, but from the sales I have achieved the response is strong to encourage me to do so. How long it takes would depend on the length and difficulty of the carpet one wants. It takes me 3 hours to make one wool bal of 150g. To set up the loom with wool warp it needs 15 balls. Then another 15 balls for a carpet of about 2.60 meters. Then setting up the loom is at least 8 hours work; the actual weaving may not take too long but then the finishing of the carpet can also add many hours of work.
But it is the pleasure of creating that is the biggest payment, the joy of seeing enthusiasm in the face of a buyer who knows the amount of work that has gone into it and who is happy with the creation.
We usually say can you “spin your story”? What story does your creations tell?
TA: My creations show my path into becoming a more self assured and self loving person doing what I love to do instead of always doing everything for others.
Haha, I like your story:). You sell your carpets but you can also teach others as well?
TA: Anyone who wants to learn can contact me. I think it is very important the knowledge goes on and many can benefit from the mindful, relaxing state this work brings you in.
Thanks Trudy and last but not least: do you listen to music when you work in your studio? And if “yes” what are your favorites?
TA: I do sometimes, but most of the time I am listening to the sounds of nature coming through the window, birds, sheep-bells, tortoises (believe it or not, they can be really noisy). If I listen to music it is actually vary varied in genre and vintage but yes, I do love a good sing-along to my favourite chart hits from the 60’s-80’s. For more peaceful or self-reflective moments I also dip into meditation tapes and lectures of buddist practitioners.