April 24, 2010

Georgian Textiles, in the Shadow of Caucasus Mountains

Georgia, a tiny Caucasus mountain country located between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, is a wonderful place to visit. A few years ago, traveling roads by a 4-wheel vehicle, I bounced along in the company of Georgian women whose mission it is to save long held textile traditions through their organization, Georgian Textile Group (GTG) http://www.geotexart.org/. Present was the knowledge that we were traveling parts of the Northern Route of Marco Polo's Silk Road which ended on the shores of the Black Sea.

Irina and Nino, two of the originators of GTG 
Our traveling group stops for a bite to eat on our way to Alvani and the Tusheti region.

This morning I received an email from my friends in Georgia inviting me to a showing at the National Silk Museum of Vendo Tsurtsumia's blue and white traditionally printed table cloths. Wish I could jump on a plane to attend! Alas, I will have to settle for sharing with you some of my own experiences in this beautiful country as well as some of the textiles I brought back.
A close-up of one of Vendo's table cloths
Traditionally, the blue and white printed cloth was dyed linen fabric using indigo and with stamped resists. Unfortunately, the exact technique for making this cloth has been lost. Vendo, however, has invented a way of printing using ancient wood block images with fabric paint on blue ground cloth. Quite lovely, no?
Georgian terra cotta bean pot with felted flowers created by a Tbilisi textile artist
Felted bed cover
In Alvani we did workshops, one in the studio of a contemporary felt artist. Here is one of her beautiful felted wall pieces.
Painting with raw wool
We are learning to make felt formed around Manana's foot to create a slipper.
Even Georgian shepherds used felted cloaks (on the right). These versatile garments served as protection from the elements while sitting guarding sheep in a chilly mountain pasture. The felted cloak was used as a tent-like shelter as well as a coat of sorts.
Here is my flock of needle felted Georgian sheep! Whimsical felted birds, bugs, bears, and flowers are made by an entire family living in a tiny village outside of Tbilisi.
Knitted lace linen scarf and tiny felted owl, both gifts from Manana, GTG Trainer, extraordinaire. The hand painted card shows 'Old Tbilisi'.
Difficult to believe, over 3000 caves were carved out of the stone mountainside where monks lived before and during the time of Queen Tamara in the 12th century. Astounding is the Church of the Assumption, a 3-story cave sanctuary painted top to bottom with now decaying frescoes. One of only three portraits in existence is of Queen Tamara on the north wall.

Traveling higher into the mountains above the village of Vardzia near the Mtkvari River, we arrived at the Vardzia Nunnery. The nuns here grow their own food, teach children from the village, and stitch exquisite ecclesiastical embroideries from gold and silk threads. More common are the cross stitch pieces created for glasses cases, pouches, bracelets, and decorative bags.

Many days drive to the Tusheti region of Georgia we passed by a roadside stand where a knitter was selling her wares.

Intricately patterned knitted socks, slippers, and wool shawls
are indigenous to the Tusheti region, high in the Caucasus mountains. The houses perched on the pastoral hillsides are built of stone with black slate roofs.
You can see the shawl from above now lives in Montana, USA!

I shared only a smidgen of my travels in Georgia. What I have not shown you are the weaving, icons, cheese (handmade on every farm), regional dancers, flat bread made by slapping dough to stick and bake inside a terra cotta round oven, wine (did you know the word 'wine' originated in Georgia?), buried terra cotta wine casks big enough for a man to stand inside of, flowing rivers, and the faces of the people. Georgia is an exotic crossroads secreted below the majestic Caucasus Mountains. The culture is rich with influences from Greece, Iran, Armenia, Russia, and Turkey. If you ever have the chance, GO!


  1. Thanks for this ovely article and great pictures. I am currently writing an assignment for my textile design degree on Caucasian textiles and trying to find out more about them.

    My boyfriend lived in Tblisi Georgia for a couple of years (for work)and we have a couple of woven pieces from Georgia at home.

    I myself have never been, unfortunately!

    Do you still have any pictures of the woven pieces? Did the ladies tell you anything about the symbolism of the colours or motifs?

    Thanks again for this article - was nice to come across some recent and non-academic information.

    Evita (Melbourne, Australia)

  2. Evita, thank you for your kind words! Georgia is wonderful, rich, textural place. You must visit. You must connect with the Georgian Textile Group (link on my blog right side). They are a wealth of information as their mission is to raise awareness about the wonderful textiles in their country.

    1. Hey, Petunia Girl -- I found this lovely page while looking for a source of a traditional Georgian blue tablecloth. Years ago, we hosted a visitor from the Tbilisi Theatre, and he gave us one as a gift. Now our daughter has moved into her new home, a 14th Century stone millhouse in Tuscany, and I'd like to give her a housewarming gift. Can you suggest any way I can get a tablecloth to send to her?

  3. Elizabeth, I will try to connect you up with my Georgian Textile Group friends so you can order one of their lovely blue/white table cloths. I will do it thru Facebook. Do you have a Facebook page? Anyway, thanks for visiting my post! Stay tuned.