Back from Bosnia

posted in: Designing, Inspiration, knitting | 17

Last week we went hiking in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was lots and lots of fun. Hard work in hot weather but just a great way to spend a week – challenging walks, my first experience of rafting, interesting food, swimming, socialising with nice people and learning more about how people in other circumstances live. We spent time with young people who had spent their childhoods in a war zone when Sarajevo was blockaded and bombarded. We saw the street where Arch Duke Ferdinand was shot, precipitating the First World War. We saw important monuments and visited beautiful Mostar and Dubrovnik and went on interesting city tours.

One of our walks took us from the 1984 Winter Olympics site to  Lukomir, Bosnia’s highest village at 1,469m, with its ancient stecci (mediaeval tombstones) and unusually constructed houses. Here the villagers still follow a traditional way of life, although many spend the really cold months in the city and only farm in the summer. We joined an older couple for lunch, cooked by their daughters. This consisted of potato pie, cheese pie, home-grown tomatoes, salad, Bosnian coffee and rose flavoured locum (Turkish delight).

The older lady and her husband make things to sell to tourists and she showed us her knitting, and some wooden spoons he had made that morning. As I have a new interest in knitting, I examined her items most carefully (we bought a couple of the spoons).

Then i asked if I might have a look inside the house, which consisted of three room, each connected. The bedroom, sitting room and kitchen. We sat on low stools in the kitchen, with its unfinished walls,  and talked about clothes with her (our guide translating). She wore a kind of harem trouser – as you maybe able to discern in the picture above. They were made of a rough black wool. She demonstrated how she wove the fabric herself, and how she held her socks up under the trousers (with those little hair elastics!). I like the tiny pom poms at the back and the way the foot part of the socks is made from a more “practical yarn” in less flashy colours, whereas the leg part is very colourful and embroidered on. Her husband wore the same type of socks which are warm and practical. I asked if she also knitted her own jumper and she said yes, she had knit it. I really liked her colour choices – the stong reds and deep pinks, the orange necklace and her headscarf with shades of maroon and black. She was completely charming and kept shaking my hand with enthusiasm when I told her how I made my own clothes too. Her hand shake was as strong as man’s despite being over 80. When I left she gave me a full embrace.

Meeting this lady made me think of the One Year One Outfit challenge organised by Australian blogger This is Moonlight. The idea is to make a whole outfit from locally sourced materials, including underwear, footwear and fastenings. This lady has created her outfit from things near to her, and broadly with her own labour. She dresses in a traditional way, making her own fabric through knitting and weaving. Her clothes are practical, as well as beautiful, and extremely robust and strong. I find it very inspiring to visit people, even briefly, who live more closely to nature, alongside their animals, using the same skills as their ancestors to create and recreate their way of life.

 

17 Responses

  1. this looks beautiful, I visited yugoslavia in the 80s and was enthralled by the friendliness of the people – have not visited since, and certainly tempted by your photos

    • I had never been to Yugoslavia Eimear, but I would agree wholeheartedly with your comment. Everyone was really friendly and keen to chat. Also the weather, coast line, mountains and history is incredible. It is a true marriage of East and West and this is reflected in religion, food, architecture and culture. Not to be missed.

  2. This is beautiful, Kate. I an intrigued by the idea that the pants are woven but the knitting yarns she used are clearly industrially processed. It would be interesting to know more. The colours chosen are so vibrant.

    • The yarns included nylon-y fibres and were not very nice to be honest. I would have bought a pair if they had been more “authentic” – but they were being worn by both of the older people so they are actually authentic! Also the foot part had “dirty” colours with the legs being brighter – I wanted a harmonious colour scheme.

  3. Joyce Latham

    Wow a fasinateing trip. Obviously that talented women felt she was a kindred spirit of yours. How nice!
    I just picked up the vogue September issue ( rather disappointed this year – and I can not believe how young some of the models are….10?) and I must say, this brightly coloured and patterned women would fit right in!
    I see a lot of the women were wearing scarfs…getting some inspiration from that Kate?
    Looking forward to your next post as always.
    Joyce

  4. I what an interesting encounter it’s almost like slipping back in time I suppose these skills were developed out of necessity yet it does seem as if we have lost something in our progress.

    It looks like she may have sewn the argyle patten to her socks after knitting, clever technique. I love the coloured cord through the hem of her trousers.

    On another note, doesn’t she look fine and healthy, Hard to credit that she’s in her 80s.

    • Annie – she was very strong – I am sure she works the land most of the summer. And yes I think you are right that the socks are embroidered after knitting – one could do a tartan with this technique I guess.

  5. So interesting! I love finding common ground across cultures Thanks for taking us along.

  6. Thank-you for this very interesting window into the life of a far-away maker.

    RE: the one year, one outfit challenge is not a conscious choice for people who have no money in the sense that they do not have any currency that allows them to buy something outside of their region. Traveling in east Africa, I finally understood what it means not to have access to a ‘convertible currency.’ It means that you have to do without anything that you cannot barter for or buy with your local currency.

    Gasoline is paid for with ‘petrodollars.’ Imagine a life where you cannot go anywhere or have things except from within a geographic region that can be traversed on foot, bike, mule or by wind/paddle.

  7. Kate, I really enjoyed this post. Since I am around your age, I remember very well the distressing reports and visuals of the war in Bosnia. I have no sympathy to Communist regimes, but Tito’s death unleashed hatreds that had been simmering for generations. A Yugoslavian friend (back in the 80’s) told me that anyone voicing disrespectful sentiments against another’s ethnicity was jailed to ensure that peaceful relations were the norm. I could not help but think that Tito should have done more to ensure that his legacy did not die with him.
    Because he was unwilling to risk loss of power in his lifetime, he doomed his country to years and years of conflict. There is no guarantee that future generations will not resurrect old ( and legitimate) grudges and hatreds.The fact that at least the rural populace appears to have recovered from the war is heartening.

    • Alot of people – in their 30s and in their 60s – whom we met felt that life was better under Tito. I was quite surprised as I imagined that they may have felt strongly nationalist – but they seemed to emphasise how everyone spoke the same language, and that mixed marriages were normal, and that they did not want to be labelled by religion. But the destruction from the war was immense and very sad. In Mostar we were told it has 90% destroyed and is only now being rebuilt.

  8. Fascinating! Thanks for sharing. On another (unrelated note) I hope to pay a quick visit to Ditto Fabrics in Brighton today, thanks to your blog post on the topic!

    • Hi Ellen – gosh I didn’t realise you were in the UK. Would LOVE to meet up if you are in London at all. I am sorry I didn’t read my home emails when I was on holiday. Let me know if you get this please.

  9. I had a holiday in Croatia last year and visited Mostar too. I loved it, and would have liked to get further into the real land as you did. The food was fabulous, and I enjoyed the crafts – although it is frustrating to find so much made purely with tourists in mind. That lady looked like a gem.

  10. We really liked Mostar too Kim and felt that the renovations had been done extraordinarily well. I would like to go again – there is so much to see throughout the area.

  11. Fascinating. I love that you get to see a more authentic picture of life – behind the scenes a bit.

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