CULTURE | ART | DESIGN
Art of the Loom: LOOM%
A STORY WOVEN IN TIME
"NO ELECTRIC LOOM, AS TECHNOLOGICALLY ADVANCED AS IT IS, CAN CREATE AS ELABORATE DESIGNS AS A MANUAL LOOM...THIS IS THE MAGIC OF TRADITIONAL WEAVING ART."
The bright colors and geometric designs of Anastasia Xenaki and Petros Christoforatos pay tribute to one of the oldest crafts developed by mankind: loom weaving.
Deeply rooted in Greek heritage since the Neolithic Era, the art of loom weaving was rather pronounced in antiquity, referenced in Greek mythology and depicted frequently in ancient art and artifacts. Perhaps the most prominent example of weaving in ancient Greek mythology is the work of Penelope, loyal wife to King Odysseus, who promised to select a suitor once she had finished a burial shroud. As the story goes, Penelope was able to keep her suitors at bay by weaving in the morning and unraveling her work at night, never to complete the loom, while she faithfully awaited her husband.
Beyond the ancient world, weaving continued to play a significant role in Greek culture, as evidenced by the intricate design of the clothing and tapestries of the Byzantine Era, which produced some of the world’s most beautiful silk pieces, often depicting religious imagery. More familiar instances of weaving include the beautifully ornate traditional costumes that vary in style by region throughout Greece. Though hand weaving has naturally been on the decline since the turn of the century, aficionados indulge in the art of the loom, creating valuable, one-of-a-kind pieces.
Taking a millenia-old process to the next level, the LOOM% team designs fashion and household items for the modern consumer with a taste for the unique. The LOOM% brand consists of a number of products including handcrafted purses and lamp shades made with raw material like cotton, silk and flax from local Greek producers. The items adorn concept stores all over Greece, at the shop of the Acropolis Museum, and their online store feelourloom.com.
Xenaki, who learned the art of weaving from her mother, recalls a childhood linked to looms, yarns, warps and the magical world of weaving. “We want the world to experience our rich cultural heritage as it stems from Greek culture and tradition,” Xenaki says. "We decided that since we possess the know-how of weaving culture, to reintroduce the specific art form through our creations.”
The LOOM% believes in tradition, that is, doing things the way they were done before the advent of electricity and its widespread application to previously manual labor intensive work. “We love electricity and its uses, but in our workshop none of our looms operate on it,” she says. “The whole production takes place in traditional wooden looms, manually, with the use of ‘muscle’ power.”
And there are two types of looms, Xenaki explains: the vertical and horizontal, which the LOOM% team uses to create their pieces. “Setting up the loom is a very difficult process because it requires stability and perfect calibration so that it doesn’t shift with the moves of the weaver,” Xenakis says.
After the loom has been correctly set and all the separate components have been assembled with precision, the warp (tense longitudinal yarns) are added, and the loom is ready for weft weaving. “The way in which the threads are passed among the crates is magical, and only someone who has witnessed the whole process up close can understand exactly what we mean,” Xenakis says.
A cornerstone of civilization thousands of years in the making, weaving has served as a channel of passing down knowledge and traditions from generation to generation. When talking “tradition,” the LOOM% team makes it clear that they are not shying away from progress. “On the contrary, tradition evolves by experiencing the three dimensions of time: past, present and future,” Christoforatos says. “Tradition is inextricably linked to the elements that survive over time.”
The loom’s uniqueness extends beyond its traditional appeal, as every region in Greece has cultivated its own style and weaving technique, visible to the expert eye. “Someone who truly knows the secrets of the art can easily distinguish between the wefts from Thrace, Macedonia, Epirus, Crete, Santorini and other regions of Greece, taking into consideration not only the patterns and colors used, but the weave as well,” Christoforatos says.
Aside from creating for their designer line, the LOOM% team has collaborated with cultural associations for which they have woven traditional costumes representing the various regions of Greece. “The patterns that grace Hellenic hand-woven textiles are mostly geometrical shapes, stripes and schematic representations of humans, plants, animals and objects,” Xenakis says. “The loom is like a canvas which anyone who knows the secrets of weaving art can create the most elaborate and unique designs on.”
Like most individuals operating a business in today’s Greece, surviving in an environment of absurdly high taxation is something Xenakis and Christoforatos say is their greatest challenge. “We will fight with all our power to keep our company alive in our country and we hope that soon will come better days at all levels,” Xenakis says. “Our passion is the weaving art, and no one, nor an economic obstacle will deprive us...this is a bet and a promise we have given to ourselves,” she says.
Led by their passion to create, Xenakis and Christoforatos are part of the positive trend that sees Greece’s younger generations eager to produce quality products made in Greece.
“We live in a country that despite the difficult moments it experiences due to financial crisis, her people continue to smile,” Xenakis says. “Few countries in the world can successfully combine a strong civilization with natural beauty and the warmth of its people...we believe that this is the secret of our beautiful country.”
As a craft, the art of loom has survived the test of time, but as handcrafted pieces today constitute just a fraction of the textiles produced, items created by hand are a statement piece catering to the individual seeking express themselves with something special.
“No electric loom, as technologically advanced as it is, can create as elaborate designs as a manual loom,” Xenakis says. “This is the magic of the traditional weaving art.”
WORDS: Portes Magazine