Throughout our week at Lišov we had the opportunity to see a wide range of local heritage textiles and processing equipment, to rummage through Adriana’s textile workshop, and to try our hand at loom weaving. It was clear to all of us that Adriana has a great interest in and talent for textiles of all sorts, including traditional fabrics (woven, printed, embroidered) and modern plastic/metallic or upcycled materials. The decoration on the outside of the main museum building is based on traditional cross stitch patterns and appears on the museum logo. Textiles are a central theme of the museum both in terms of culture heritage interpretation and as a major component of the museum shop.
This short report explores the range of the textile collections, the current textile-based enterprise activities, some thoughts/suggestions on potential textile based outreach and enterprise projects, and possible implications for work in Scotland.
Textile Collections & Interpretation at Lišov Museum
The traditional house building has a good collection of local red and white textiles of hemp and linen, woven or embroidered as pillow cases and bedspreads. The textiles are displayed in their original contexts on beds within the rooms and there are some books on traditional Slovak weaving and embroidery. The books are mostly in Slovak but they do have some English summaries. There are also some children’s and adult traditional costumes and ‘Sunday’ clothes on display in the bedroom area. Adriana said they are working to increase the textile collection through donations and purchases. In the weaving room there are also examples of local weaving, knitting and croquette on the walls, either from local craftswomen or local purchases.
Hemp and flax processing for textiles was a large part of the local rural economy in the past but neither of these crops are currently grown around Lišov. There are small gardens and plots, with some small meadows and hayfields and large areas of woodland, but the area is still dominated by large scale field systems, usually of monocultures, from the Soviet collectivisation period and by subsequent large scale farmingsystems. The museum has a good collection of hemp and flax processing equipment and has two large looms from the turn of the 19/20 century which can be used for weaving demonstrations and teaching. Adriana has been working with experts from outside the village to set up the looms with the warp threads because this skill has largely died out locally. She is planning to go on a weaving course to improve her skills and increase the potential for training opportunities and local production of textiles.
The external walls of the main museum building were decorated two years ago with a painted mural of a cross-stitched male and female figure. This is one of the defining images of the museum and appears on the logo. The museum is the only building in Lišov with a painted exterior design but there is a Slovak tradition of painting exterior walls with textile designs. The village of Čičmany in northern Slovakia is a folk architecture reserve with its house painted black with white textile designs. The interior walls of the Lišov museum were also painted using wooden rollers to create a repeating design.
In addition to the public collections Adriana also has a working collection of heritage textiles, including blueprint fabric (Modrotlač), beautiful chain-stitched covers from her grandmother, red and white work from Romania, discarded embroidery kits, fragments of fabric, modern plastic with printed embroidery or folk patterns, and old metallic coffee bags which are used for her textile enterprise work.
Textile Enterprise at Lišov Museum The museum shop sells a wide range of goods including honey, soap, herbal teas, wooden goods and hand made textile items from new and up-cycled fabrics. There are a range of items made from new fabrics including the distinctive blueprint (Modrotlač) fabric, and linen and lace herb and mushroom collecting bags. Adriana makes a range of bags and fabric covered notebooks from fragments of up-cycled fabrics including heritage textiles and modern materials such as old metal-coated coffee bags.
The Lišov Museum shop is part of the Green Village network which promotes the sale of products which score highly on the four pillars of sustainability (social, cultural, environmental and economic). The Lišov shop both produces items for and sells items from the other Green Village shops in Romania and Cyprus. More information about the Green Village project is published in Sublime Magazine (http://sublimemagazine.com/rural-revival).
Blueprint (Modrotlač) in Slovakia
We also had the opportunity to visit a textile exhibition of blueprint (Modrotlač) at the Geological Museum in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Banská Štiavnica. The exhibition itself was really well put together with examples of the printing blocks, a range of heritage textiles, modern printed materials in long banners and the chance to print some of the patterns onto paper. The interpretation was all in Slovak but the visuals helped fill in the gaps for non-Slovak speakers. The staff seemed surprised that we wanted to visit the exhibition and keep directing us back to the geological collections. When we had finally seen enough rocks they let us into the beautiful exhibition space.
Modrotlač is a resist dyed fabric with the pattern in white against a dark blue/indigo background. It is also found in Czechia and in Hungary it is known as Kekfesto. In Slovakia a young designer Martin (Matej) Rabada has developed a screen printing method for creating Modrotlač. He creates his own fabrics and works with designers to produce ties, trainers, shirts and dresses. His facebook page has a good film showing the process from beginning to end (https://www.facebook.com/Modrotlačmr/).
Potential Engagement/Enterprise Projects Based Around Textiles
The museum has the potential to go in lots of different directions at this stage of its development, and Martin, Adriana and Jakob have some interesting decisions ahead about where and when to invest their capacities. The suggestions below or similar ideas may already be in the museum’s strategic plans but these are some of the things that struck me during the visit, which could have potential to increase engagement and income, and seem to fit with Adriana’s talents and interests.
Sewing the Story of Lišov
There could be potential to create a mini Bayeux tapestry with different textile panels celebrating the history, culture and nature of Lišov. This could be used as a travelling exhibition throughout Slovakia, or further afield to increase awareness of and footfall to the museum. Ultimately it could be exhibited permanently at the museum or different panels could be exhibited at different venues, such as the Spa hotels in Dudince or in better known heritage centres as a creative advertisement to encourage visitors to venture out to Lišov.
One of the things that I found remarkable was the variety of rich and unique culture heritage in the Lišov area but also how little known or appreciated it seemed to be locally or in wider Slovakia. Involving local people in telling and celebrating the story of their place could be help to increase engagement with the museum and its aims of valuing local heritage and rural development. Local people could be engaged with the suggestion or selection of subjects for the panels, and the creation of panels themselves – depending on interest, funding etc. In our short time here we encountered a range of potential subjects from the Fossa Giganteum and the first farmers, cave dwellings, Romans and borderlands, Ottoman Invasions, Austro-Hungarian period, the local stone carvers and Donatello, the first world war, the Soviet period, the management of the land (forestry, farming, hunting, grapes, honey), local characters including Fero Liptak, natural history, the coming of the mask museum. There are surely any number of locally important events, places or characters that could come out from asking the community.
Choosing an artistic direction – There have been several different textile story projects in the UK in the last few years of different scales and types. The Great Tapestry of Scotland and the Diaspora Tapestry were based around the artistic style of one artist, Andrew Crummy, who created the designs for each panel which were sent out to be stitched by volunteer stitchers across Scotland (http://www.scotlandstapestry.com/). In the Patchwork Meadow project we gave people the dimension (15 x 15cm) and allowed anyone who was interested to submit a square celebrating a plant that was personal to them along with their story, using any fabric type, technique and design. These diverse squares were then brought together on black backing panels to provide the common theme for exhibition. In David’s Common Ground Project through the Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust the base material was aerial photographs printed onto canvas which were then embroidered. Different panels could reflect different elements of the story and/or showcase different textile techniques, materials and artists/crafts people or it could be a strong central theme based around one material and one artistic vision. Woven materials and cross stitched/embroidery patterns are already a strong element of the museum’s collection. The blueprint, Modrotlač, is one of the traditional textiles of the region and could be part of the story. Perhaps the young designer Martin Rabada could design a panel or Fero Liptak?
If there was interest in developing this idea it could be eligible for funding through the Slovak Arts Council or maybe a small trust grant. Creative Europe has Cooperation Grants but they need at least two partners in two other European countries. Perhaps it could come under Erasmus+ funding if it involved training or experience in textile work? It is not necessarily very expensive to do this type of project but it would need to cover staff time, some materials, perhaps commissioning designs or stitching, exhibition materials and transport costs.
Day courses or short courses from a few days up to a week or so, are part of the financial model for many culture heritage and craft organisations in Scotland. Adriana has the skills to deliver a range of textile workshop offers if there was interest to develop this.
The setting is great and there are a range of local cultural activities beyond textile skills training. It could promote the opportunity for developing a range of local accommodation and tourism services within Lišov. I don’t know anything about the local or Slovak customer base for this type of workshop but there are specialist tour companies who select locations for their visits including Stitchtopia (http://www.arenatravel.com/our-holidays/stitchtopia/textile-holidays),Cloth Roads (https://www.clothroads.com/resources/textile-travel/), International Textile Tours ECT (https://www.ecttravel.com/tours/textile-tours). Another route could be to develop a Lišov Accommodation and Skills Package and promote it directly through websites such as Craft Scotland (https://www.craftscotland.org/) or similar websites in other European countries.
Local Enterprise Development
Adriana already creates a wide range of products for the museum shop as discussed above. If there was sufficient market or a larger market for the products could be developed either through physical shops/outlets or online the textiles could be part of a local enterprise project to involved local sewers and increase employment opportunities. We saw first hand the problems of phone coverage and internet availability which might make online marketing and selling problematic, but perhaps a LEADER enterprise or community grant could go towards market development and skills training for local people? I don’t know the Slovak market for small embroidery kits but the UK market is very large and maybe this could be explored.
Impact and Potential for Dissemination and Future Cooperation
Putting the learning to use in Scotland. The use of up-cycled coffee bags as a material is a revelation to me on many levels. It is strong, durable, and ubiquitous, but rarely recycled, if at all. I have been looking for a material that could be used on the inside of reusable sandwich/food storage bags to cut down on the use of cling film in pack lunches and in the kitchen, and I am planning to experiment with coffee bags as soon as possible. I volunteer at a Scottish creative reuse charity (Remake Scotland) and this is the type of learning that could be disseminated through the creative team and in the Scottish reuse networks.
Textiles and sewing can be a powerful tool for engagement, and can accommodate many skills levels and techniques, partly because so many people have some basic level of skill in sewing and can reach a functional level quite easily. This is also one of the reasons why craft textiles are often the Cinderella’s of cultural heritage. Embroidery is only art if Grayson Perry sews it. I think this misses the point that textiles can be a medium for socialising, story telling and empowerment, whether they are purely for pleasure, high art or commercial enterprises.
Future cooperation. If Adriana is interested in developing any of the engagement projects around textiles I would be more than happy to share the experience of the UK and European Patchwork Meadow projects. I volunteer with a small museum in rural Scotland, Innerpeffray Library, which is currently developing its own textile panels to share the history of the place and to raise its profile within Scotland and beyond. The experiences of this project could also be shared. There are a number of creative reuse organisations and networks which specialise in textiles, including Remake Scotland, and there could be potential for future cooperation in different forms.
I also wanted to say what a real pleasure it was to meet the others in our group from the UK and to learn so much about their skills and expertise. I am not sure exactly at this point what form it would or could take but I would be more than happy to work with anyone from our group in projects in the UK or Europe in the future.