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Edition No. 29

Edition No. 29

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THE SILK INDUSTRY IN CYPRUS

Edition No. 29

Edition No. 29

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IssueCodeQuantitySerial Number RangeCompany
6/20140114CE50060.178.000 - 60.178.499Printec

THE SILK INDUSTRY IN CYPRUS


The silk industry in Cyprus developed as a weaving art during the Byzantine era. It has played an important role in the social and economic life of the island throughout the centuries.


According to historical accounts, the production and use of this valuable resource grew considerably during the Lusignan period. At this time, Cyprus became a centre for the production of silk and gold embroidered fabrics and their subsequent export to the West.


Later, during Frankish rule, the demand for woven silks began to decline and silk making subsequently continued as a cottage industry in many areas of the island, including Lapithos and Karavas, Paphos, Mesaoria, Kakopetria and the Karpas Peninsula. During the British colonial era, according to historical records, Cyprus was the second-largest prouder of silk in the British Empire after India.


The real growth of silk weaving began in the 13th century when the weaving mills were moved closer to Cyprus’ ports. Famagusta was particularly famed as a centre for the silk trade.


The most serious attempt to modernise the Cypriot silk industry was made during British rule.


Impressed by the quality and authenticity of Cypriot silk, the British gave fresh impetus to efforts aimed at transforming silkworm cultivation and the production and weaving of Cypriot silk. Despite their efforts, however, silk weaving remained a cottage industry which, nonetheless, gave families in the districts a significant income.


Each family bred silkworms and had such enough silk that rich and poor dressed alike in the material. Women were mainly responsible for all the stages of silk production, processing and weaving. The reeling of the filament from the cocoon was the job of professional male silk makers.


Nicosia was a celebrated centre of silk production. The weaving workshops of Agios Antonios, Agios Kassianos and Chrysaliniotissa were famous for their silk and cotton blends, as well as different types of silk for dresses, sheets, delicate gauze and other clothes.


In every neighbourhood, the women specialised in weaving a different type of garment, such as ruched and striped silk sheets, transparent gauze, taffeta dresses or soft scarves. Their decoration depended on the combination of different types of silk (in its natural colours) and way it was woven. These threads, depending on how the silk had been processed, were different in texture, thickness and shade which created major variations and light and shade in the material.


The area of Lapithos and Karavas, despite being small, made its own special contribution to the mosaic of Cypriot art.


Woven silks were an expression of popular good taste with all the potential that the rich silk material and tradition gave to the art of weaving.


The silk was decorated in various ways, depending on the tradition and specialisation of each area. White material embroidered with geometric patterns, enriched with coloured glass beads decorated the silks of the Karpas Peninsula. Off-white silk embroidery made with thick spun silk gave particular brightness to the silk bedcovers and bedskirts made by the women of Lapithos and Lefkara. In the towns and large villages, women used silk or a linen and silk blend as the basis for multi-coloured embroidered headscarves.


The silk industry had a fixed presence in the life, customs, superstitions and traditions of the Cypriot people. For example, silken thread was used to get rid of everything bad – illness, envy, fear or even goblins – and to keep it away. Silk was also thought to be imbued with a preventive power, which is why the bridal bed was always sewn with red silken thread. Silk scarves were not only the confirmation of an engagement but its symbolism: as long as they remained undisturbed, the engagement would remain intact.


Every girl, depending on her financial situation, had to prepare a number of silk bedcovers, sheets and formal clothes for her dowry, as well as the silk shirt and scarf that she would offer as a gift to her fiancé.


Sources
1. “The silk industry in Cyprus” from the book by Eleni Papademetriou
2. Website of the Cyprus Handicrafts Service
http://www.mcit.gov.cy/mcit/chs/chs.nsf/all/1a3d0a1a56b019f8c225738b002247bf?opendocument


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