All Colors of Montenegro: Dyeing Fabrics in Nikšić

By , 23 Jul 2018, 14:22 PM Made in Montenegro
Illustration Illustration Svetlana Mandic

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July 23, 2018 - They say that no material made in labs can be compared to wool. That it is simply unattainable. There was a time in Montenegro when it was unthinkable to find a house without a braider. The women used to weave jumpers, purses, and dye wool by boiling the barks or leaves of different plants, adding ash, soot, and more. 

Last week at the Nikšić Fortress, Jelena Djukanovic, the director of "Museums and Galleries" Nikšić, decided to revive the past. There were no sounds of the gusle, or quarrels between the priest Milo and Captain Mušovic, but they did dye wool. And just how this was done was shown by the participant's grandmothers at the four-day international colony called "All Colors of Montenegro".

"Inspired by their ancestors who dyed fabrics from materials that were available and easily applicable in nature, they came to the idea to try and do something similar in our time," Djukanovic said.

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PHOTO: Svetlana Mandić

She gathered a valuable team from Montenegro and the region - artists, students, scientists. They learned from one another, and with each other, they used their imagination. As a result, various artistic poetics were created. "This is my first experience with wool. I’m experimenting and it looks great. I was inspired by the fortress and the material and the people and the organization, so it is very interesting and fun," said the sculptress Jelena Pavićević.

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PHOTO: Svetlana Mandić

Aleksandra Radosavljević, a third-year student of the Faculty for Fashion and Graphic Design from Podgorica, said that at the faculty, they have not worked with wool and natural dyes until now.

"I was not familiar with some plants until now. It would be interesting and be challenging for me today to take a sweater that a woman made and dye it myself," said Alexander, not hiding the excitement that the color "does not leave any trace on the hands". The oldest known technique for making wool, older even than weaving, is pressing or felting.

"Felt is a material obtained by the mechanical pressing. I've been working with felt so far, but now, for the first time, I'm making it by myself and I have to admit it's very interesting and inspirational. This felt we make gives us more freedom to react in a creative way," said the graphic designer Olivija Ivanovic Strugar.

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PHOTO: Svetlana Mandić

And they continued to use felt, along with the other colonists. Ivana Veljović, a professor at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Belgrade, emphasized that it is best to work with natural materials and natural colors and that for the students and professors from the mentioned faculty, felting and working with wool are not new.

"Our students are acquainted with the wool and the natural colors, but not in this way, therefore, we are all happy with sharing these experiences and knowledge. The relocation from space is very important because, in such a wonderful ambiance, they can be inspired. Tradition is also preserved in this way," Veljovic said.

The whole process was monitored by a co-worker on the project, Dr. Nada Bubanja, an advisor at the Natural History Museum of Montenegro. She met the colony participants with a floral wreath of Montenegro which contains 3,600 plant species.

"If we measure the richness of a country's flora by how many plant units we have on a unit of surface, then Montenegro would certainly be the leader among the European countries," Bubanja said.

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PHOTO: Svetlana Mandić

Violeta Vukosavljević, the manager of "The Old Town of Anderva", emphasized that the project tried to unite science and art, tradition and the modern world. 

"Through work and socializing we have come up with new experiences for all of us. We have passed the path of planting and dyeing the wool to the creation of modern art forms. There are different poetics and reflections on the same subject - how to naturally dye a natural material and transport it into a contemporary art concept. This has led to knowledge about wool as a very supple material that allows different forms of art and confirms the rule that everything which is natural has more quality and value for itself, "Vukosavljevic said.

And Jelena Djukanovic, the main "culprit" of the project, for whom Bedem, even briefly, was painted in Montenegro colors, did not hide the satisfaction for the colony's success.

"The working atmosphere was fantastic, they were all devoted to it, and there were more working hours than we had planned initially in the program because the participants wanted to learn and do as much as they could. I think everyone carries a huge benefit from this socializing and cooperation because the interaction was perfect, and we managed to bring back the interest of this to the participants. I believe that through artistic projects they will spread this story further," Djukanovic said.

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PHOTO: Svetlana Mandić

And it will continue to expand in the autumn when it should be moved to Italy, because the project co-founder, supported by the Ministry of Culture, was also the Multimedia Center "Kubo" from Bari.

Jelena Dukanovic explains that technologically treated fabrics are impossible to paint, while the raw yarn is very easy to paint with the herbal dyes.

"We did not invent anything here. We're just coming back to the tradition. At a time when it is confirmed that synthetic dyes cause numerous allergies, they are harmful to health, and especially to the environment, the so-called ecological colors are increasingly in use. It is known that for one pair of jeans 120 liters of drinking water is consumed, and a very large number of pollutants are used such as peroxides, which permanently stay in the environment. Our herbal colors are degradable, they neither pollute nor harm anyone," Dukanovic explains.

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PHOTO: Svetlana Mandić

Instead of synthetic colors, colonists used nettle, madder, black ash, cabbage, hypericum, walnut, black onion, and beet. For three days, the colony was stationed on the city fortress, and one day it was relocated to the source of Bukovica River, below Durmitor, where they picked hypericum.

"We used the leaves from the ash trees and we had to trim them before flowering so they could produce a color that is dark brown to extremely black, depending on the number of leaves. From walnuts, we used the leaf as well as the immature green ones. We got a brownish shade of color. From nettle, whether it is a leaf or a tree, we have obtained certain shades of green, and from the flowers of hypericum from a pale orange to a highly orange color, which depends on concentration and picking itself," Bubanja explained.

And the "royal" madder won all the colony parties with the intensity of its red color. "The madder was used in both Montenegro and in the environment, not only for dyeing of fabrics but also Easter eggs. It gives the most vivid and strongest shades of red. It was much used in the Middle Ages. Almost on all the royal courts all the beautiful costumes were decorated by the red color of the madder, and silk was specially dyed," said the botanist.

Text by Svetlana Mandic, on July 22nd, 2018, read more at Vijesti

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