Handmade: The Shaping of a Cypriot Creative

Growing up in my family “handmade” was a way of life. We grew up in the capital of Cyprus, Nicosia. Many aspects of our Cypriot upbringing were based on handicrafts and self-sufficiency. Almost every piece of clothing we owned, even our bags and purses were sewn from scratch by my mother, Elli, a seamstress for many years. She even sewed our school uniforms. I was so envious of other kids at school with their newly purchased clothing. When you want what you don’t have. Of course, exactly for that reason, I did not appreciate my mother’s creations as a child. 

Once the embarrassment shifted away I grew to truly love that my mother made almost everything herself. It was normal in our family. So for me, it became only natural to create. I made postcards and greeting cards then moved on to designing and making clothes as a hobby. My mother and I would choose the fabrics together for dresses, skirts and tote bags. 

The Journey of Creation

I then began to experiment in jewellery creation, still working closely with my mother in the design and production process. I would extensively research for my creations: reading about the materials, experimenting with different fabrics and techniques and gradually I began creating my first earrings. I started working with various beads and then realised that using textiles and threads enabled me to better express my creativity and character. I began working with felt and then expanded to a myriad of fabrics, yarns and fibres. I became quite bold at times and utilised paper and even elastic bands. I like to use anything that intrigues me. I like to be able to manipulate and transform these materials into something interesting and alluring. I created necklaces, bracelets and rings and added them to my collections. 

My mother was enthusiastic and soon joined me in creating pieces as well. Over time she introduced techniques familiar to her making her creations unique in their own right. She would crochet designs with a particular smooth off-white thread, and at times other colours as well. 

 Cypriot needlework

Cypriot needlework

The Art of Velonaki & Lefkaritika

There exists a Cypriot crochet technique known as “velonaki”, for which you use a specific velonaki crochet tool for the embroidery. It was and still is a renowned method. So we started applying these methods to create jewellery designs. It can be used to make clothes, bags and even bathing suits. My grandmother still makes a lot of beautiful designs using velonaki, including decorating bathroom towels and pillow covers. It is a classic Cypriot tradition to gift newlyweds with velonaki decorated towels and pillowcases. Although not so common nowadays, my grandmother loves this tradition, and she continues to make these types of gifts. The lacework can be used for a myriad of applications including bridal gowns, tablecloths, curtains, napkins, bed sheets and pillows, camisoles and even parasols. 

 Velonaki: Cypriot crochet

Velonaki: Cypriot crochet

Another closely related traditional embroidery called Lefkaritika originates from a Cypriot village, Lefkara, located not too far from the province of Larnaca on the southern coast of Cyprus. The art of Cypriot needlework developed in Kato Lefkara and in the neighbouring village of Pano Lefkara. Today, you can wander around the village and see women sitting outside their homes, alone or with friends knitting these amazing designs. Also known as 'Lefkara lace', this needlework is by far the most well-known up to now in Cyprus and abroad. The village is fascinating and this exclusive custom is something that attracts locals and tourists. 

It is believed the Lefkaritika art began when Venetian noblemen and women who stayed in the village taught the locals the delicate handicraft. Although some of the lace patterning, is reputed to have been drawn from pre-Venetian times. Originally known by the term Asproploumia, it slowly became a tradition of local Cypriot women. They passed down the lacework skills as part of their dowry. Cotton was originally used, but then as the art form was refined, the women used linen. The shapes and designs are often specifically geometrical, further elevating the skill level required for the craft. The origin of the linen and thread used is of utmost importance. The linen is sourced from North Ireland and the thread is French. Only white, olive-brown and a fawn-type colour know as 'ecru' are allowed. The designs applied are influenced by not only region but also generation and often tell tales in the shapes and motifs used.

 Lefkara, Cyprus. Image courtesy of  Hans Daniel .

Lefkara, Cyprus. Image courtesy of Hans Daniel.

Competition between the village seamstresses resulted in continuously more precise and intricate patterning and honing of the women's skills. Sadly, with younger generations from Lefkara moving away to gain university degrees and careers, there are scarce descendants to pass the art of Lefkaritika on. With cheaper machine-made imports infiltrating the area, there is little incentive to learn the art and try to make a living from it. These days it is primarily older women gathering in groups outside their homes and enjoying the art as more of a hobby. Alas, this lace-making art may naturally pass away with the Lefkara seamstresses. This is why I cherish that my mother and I also shared a Cypriot needlework tradition and it is kept alive to this day.

Loss & A Dedication

Since my mother’s technique was from the traditional embroidery of Cyprus my designs were unique and modern but also had a “Cypriot” feel to them. My mother and I worked together constructing unique combinations and later my older sister also contributed a few designs. Some pieces were very minimal and others with more complexity. From that point, I created a brand and received moving feedback from friends and people visiting various markets where I was selling my accessories. It was so rewarding to see my work, influenced so greatly by my mother, both worn and appreciated. It felt so fulfilling, and I was very grateful for that. 

While all these fantastic things were happening and our creativity was at a heightened level my mother got sick. After a long battle with cancer, she passed away, and that was when everything ceased. I also lost my copywriter job and so I hit rock bottom. Devastated, numb, sad. 

 Anna's family in Cyprus

Anna's family in Cyprus

I decided to retrieve all the earrings she had created from various shops where I was selling our accessories, and I gave them to dear friends and cousins. I thought that was the best thing to do at that time. I couldn't focus on making anything or have reminders of the cherished moments we shared.

After a long while, one day, I just woke up, literally and mentally. I went to the room in the apartment where I kept all my materials and tools, and I just started creating. I have no idea what I made, but I will never forget the feeling that came over me at that exact moment when I was using my hands to create. Just to work with my hands; as simple as that. I thought this is what my mother would want me to do, to continue focusing on being creative and so that’s what I did. 

 Anna and her mother, Elli.

Anna and her mother, Elli.

'annakoumoushi' Becomes Official

The collections multiplied, and I started creating other products as well, such as tote bags, pouches, key-rings, t-shirts and wooden children's products. 

One of the projects I am most fond of now is a collaboration with a dear friend titled “Made In Cyprus”. Our way of celebrating and promoting our native island through various modern souvenirs. We design pouches, t-shirts for men and women, postcards, and summer totes. Both locals and tourists embraced these products which made us feel quite patriotic.

This journey has led me to have my own small studio in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, where I have all my collections on display. Sometimes I can’t believe that I have my working space and studio. It’s my happy place. My “home”. 

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Green circle earrings j1.jpg
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Feature image courtesy of Artemis Psathas. All uncredited images courtesy of Anna Koumoushi.

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Anna Koumoushi is an accessories designer and part-time copywriter and editor. A firm believer in creativity, she loves her family, traveling, and her plants. You will win her heart if you offer her a glass of good wine and a great conversation. She gets magically lost in cinema and she believes that there is always good in the world and in people. Her mother is her ‘guide’, the two Elenas and Vasiliki are the bright stars in her life and her friends her driving force. Her goods can be found at annakoumoushi.com.

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