Balkan Textile Tradition in Contemporary Fashion: A Conversation with Nina Platiša

Could you just say a few words to introduce yourself?

My name is Nina Platiša, I was born in Belgrade, Serbia and currently live in Toronto, Canada. I weave cloth on a floor loom, a practice that I enjoy for the precision, repetition, and discipline it demands.

You’re a textile weaver. What kinds of products do you make?

I’ve always been drawn towards constructing garments. I began by weaving large shawls named TKANINA and head wraps named MARAMA, simple items that are ready to wear after the material is cut from the loom. During my recent residency in Iceland, I wove and assembled a dress called HALJINA. Since then, I’ve been developing various garment patterns and I’m currently in the process of weaving material that will be used to construct these garments. I love the primitive patterns and geometric shapes that are used in the construction of traditional clothing and costumes.

Can you explain the importance of Balkan textile culture to Serbia and the region?

The Balkan textile tradition is an important part of our cultural history. Before industrial looms wove our textiles, cloth was made by our grandmothers, great-grandmothers and so on. The combination of local dress was a marker of family history, social status, and origin. ‘Local’ dress was not specific to country, republic, or ethnicity but was rather identifiable by more complex cultural-geographic history. While studying folk costumes of Former Yugoslavia as part of my university thesis, I found it interesting that while the present tendency is to characterize the country’s costumes in terms of republic or ethnicity,  if you look at a large selection of folk costumes from the Balkans, there is a huge amount of crossover in things like the style of embroidery, as well as common design elements. For example, the influence of the Ottoman Empire is apparent in the use of coins in headdresses, necklaces, and belts from various regions including Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro. Nonetheless, there are an enormous variety of folk costumes and textiles from across the many regions of the Balkans. I’ve been fortunate enough to do some research at the Ethnographic Museum of Belgrade and hope to visit similar museums throughout the region. If all this interests you, I encourage you to seek out the illustrations of Vladimir Kirin and also Le costume — Coupes et formes, a book by Max Tilke, and Folk Traditions in Yugoslavia: Ten Tours, a book by Leposava Žunić-Baš with beautiful illustrations by Zdenka Sertić.

How and where did you learn how to weave yourself?

I learned to weave from a lady named Jelisaveta whose Kalem Studio is located in Novi Banovci, Serbia (www.kalem-tkano.info). Like most things back home, I found out about Jelisaveta through word of mouth. She lives in a village 20 km from where my grandparents live in the region of Vojvodina. Jelisaveta learned to weave at the Ethnographic Museum of Belgrade after retiring as a Philosophy Professor. When I first came to visit her, I opened her front gate and found myself in an incredibly overgrown garden, surrounded by cats of all shapes and sizes. I later found out that all the local cats knew that Jelisaveta could be depended upon for an afternoon snack of milk and bread. Although she had never taught weaving before, the time I spent learning to weave under her tutelage was incredibly enriching and we shared an intimate exchange with respect to the weaving practice. Afterwards, I continued my studies in a more formal setting at The Handweavers Studio (www.handweavers.co.uk) in London, England. Now I continue to self-teach and experiment.

You’ve said you hope to source linen from the Balkans in the future. How do you envision that process?

Finding a fibre source in the Balkans is not as straightforward a task as one would think! The people who still harvest and spin fibres such as wool or flax (linen) are more often than not in rural areas where internet is scarce, meaning they cannot advertise their product online.  I’ve reached out to several contacts at the Ethnographic Museum and the Faculty of Applied Arts in Belgrade, as well as to local hand weavers to find out where they source their materials. There is some beautiful flax from Ivanic-Grad in Croatia that I’d love to work with. Once I’ve found a couple of sources, I’ll visit them during my next trip and will hopefully develop a relationship from there.

Follow Nina on Instagram at @itslevelseven and visit her website to see more of her work.

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