December 10, 2019

France - Painting with a needle at Pompidou Paris

The projects of the Sewn Signs Association from Bucharest led by the architect Ioana Corduneanu are always the pinnacle of the field. First they started documenting the Romanian Blouses and with the fabrics and threads they found at that time recreated the first blouses sewn in a traditional way for more then 50 years. They reunited all their blouses in an exhibition called Old IE, New IE (Ie veche, Ie noua) and for the year 2015 believe me it was something short of a miracle.

A year later they opened the IA Aidoma exhibition in which they recreated estranged Romanian Blouses exhibited or just collected by the biggest textile museums of the world. I saw the exhibition in my hometown, fell in love and managed to bring it to Luxembourg in 2018. Over the years some blouses went out of the exhibition and other joined it, all in all around 100 blouses were recreated using just pictures of the museum blouses. Another year and they opened IA Aievea exhibition, this time starting form small pieces of fabric they recreated entire blouses, the level of knowledge and the work put into those blouses got them the appreciation of the Google Arts and Culture Institute and they are the only association and not a museum to be featured on that Google Online Gallery.

This year I was in Sibiu, Romania where they opened a joined exhibition with MaiestrIa group from the Republic of Moldova, where I've heard about their latest project, the Matisse Blouse.

In the early 1940's, Henri Matisse received a precious gift from the Romanian painter Theodor Pallady, a Romanian blouse. The French painter, fascinated by the complexity of the shirt and the craftsmanship of the seam, painted a series of paintings depicting women, dressed in Romanian Blouses. The most iconic painting in this series is exhibited at the Pompidou Center in Paris and is called "La blouse Roumaine". I saw it there for the first time in 2014, on a cold and rainy winter day, when I changed my thick sweater to a Romanian Blouse to take a picture.
This is the story of "La Blouse Roumaine" painting we know so far. From the painting, the ladies from Sewn Signs started the study: the distribution the ornamental fields on the sleeve indicated the blouse that inspired Matisse came from Bucovina. There are countless patterns from that region, only Ioana has digitised on her blog ( more than 900 sheets, but the main source of Bucovina models remains the Kolbenheyer's album.

In 1912 the Austrian Erich Kolbenheyer catalogued for the first time the stitch patterns he encountered in Bukovina, a Romanian territory that was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was fortunate it happened then, because after the First World War, when Romania regained Bucovina, we were poor, war-torn and our only concern was survival, not the collection of stitch patterns. The album has survived and these days one could find it on Google.

Then, the women involved in the project researched the fabrics and threads women had at their disposal in the 30's when the Matisse blouse was probably made. They came up with hemp and linen, hemp was mostly used for the working blouses, the every day blouses and linen was used for the celebration ones, which we call today IA. So Matisse's blouse was probably made out of linen, but not the industrial kind we find everywhere today, the rough, home made one.

So the canvas was linen, the uneven linen. What about the threads? In that time Romania was an agricultural country, the shepherds used to take their sheep in the mountains during the summer months and bring them back to the fields during winter. So wool was the main material and the Romanian women knew how to make the finest wool thread. We also know that the women from Bucovina were proud and invested a lot in their blouses. The legend goes that they used to sell two oxen for the threads they embroidered with. They bought silk and metallic wire from the Orient, the beads from the Czech Republic, which they most definitely used on Matisse's blouse, so we included them too.


So the latest project of the Romanian Association Sews Signs was to recreate the Romanian Blouse that Matisse had painted. By the time I've joined it there were eight other women involved, Ioana, Maria, Sonia, Daniela, Ștefania, Mirela, Ștefana and Daniela and each of us recreated her unique blouse starting from the painting.
On my altiță I've embroidered blooms because in my mind they were similar to the blouse in the paining. The rivers on the sleeve I made with Eli Belinde a sign for feminine power and strength. We all had more or less the same încreț, the orange line pained by Matisse, but of course it differed from one blouse to the next. Mine was made with wool, silk, metallic thread and beads.

And so, on December 1st we reunited in Paris at the Pompidou Centre to compare our work with the original painting. The experience was one of a lifetime. Besides the authorities in the field that embraced and praised us, the visitors of the gallery considered themselves lucky to visit at the same time as us. The Matisse's paining "La Blouse Roumaine" came to life.
We were an apparition and the echoes of the event are still present on social media. People took photographs, the keepers of the gallery pointed the crowds towards room 7 at floor 5, the guides compared our work with the painting asking us to stand next to it, it was a wonderful time and I am glad I was part of it.
I was with my friends and the three days spent in Paris were great and I still long for the memories made then. But the story of the seven Matisse's blouse goes on, I am positive the women in Romania will create even more versions of the blouse and who knows maybe next year there will be 20 Romanian blouses at Pompidou.

I hope we inspired you to dream and create and go over the norms and document your own Romanian Blouse. You have all our knowledge on the Semne Cusute in acțiune group on Facebook, you have all the fabrics and threads you need on the Semne Cusute shop, you have the Blog and the Kolbenheyer album.

Paint with your own needle!

The photos belong to the people on social media and to Ioana, Ștefana, Andreea and Daniela who kindly shared them with us, please use them accordingly.

As usual we can continue the conversation on Instagram @mademoiselle.ralu

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