Tismana, the Heaven of the traditional garments from Oltenia
Author: Petru Zoltan
Tismana, Romania – At the foot of the Tismana Monastery the women, young and old, from the area named Mahala, manually sew traditional costumes.
The town of Tismana is located in the South-Vest of Romania, at about 30 kilometers from the city of Targu Jiu, in Gorj County. Here live around 100 Roma families, the descendants of the Roma slaves brought to work on the estates of the Tismana Monastery. After the emancipation of Roma, from the period between 1830 and 1860, some of them settled near the monastery, being granted land. In this town from Gorj, the Roma women gather daily in front of their houses, sit on benches or chairs brought from inside their homes and sew, diligently, various traditional clothing from Oltenia area. Most of them were employed at the State Company Tismana House Art.
“Once we had work all the time. After we were finishing our regular working day, we were taking some more work at home and we were working with the whole family to finish everything we had to do. We were earning very well. There were contracts with foreign countries, there were craft stores across the country. The factory had special departments for producing carpets, had an abagerie, tailors and shoemakers’ departments. We were working in shifts and when a shift was leaving home and another one was coming, hundreds of women were seen at the entrance. Nowadays there aren’t so many employees, but it is still good that we have work for occasional customers”, tells us one of the seamstresses. At the factory had worked most of Roma women from the community. But after 1990, the factory gradually reduced its activity and most of the staff was fired. Because of the lack of jobs, the women began to work on their own, making custom tailoring for different people, who ask for their craftsmanship.
Cameila Lasa is 42 years old. She stays on a bench put in front of her house and busily embroiders a traditional male shirt. To finish it, she needs four days. The woman her hand on the needle with red thread for the first time in her life when she was 10. Six years later she was hired with a work contract at the Tismana House Art factory. “I sew traditional costumes for almost 30 years. I learned to sew from my mother at the age of 9 or10. Until 1990, all the women from Tismana were working at Tismana Art House. There were contracts with foreign countries”, recalls seemingly sad, Camelia Lala. After nearly 30 years of sewing by hand, Camelia has eyes problems. The doctors have recommended her a year ago to wear eyeglasses. “From sewing I have eye problems, because I have to be very careful with the embroidery”.
One of the most famous tailors from Tismana is Marioara Tantan, 55 years old. Since she was little, the woman was passionate about the art of manufacture traditional carpets from Oltenia. For 23 years she worked at the Cooperative House Art, after which she decided to put up a small business, opening her own crafts shop. In 1997, the woman from Tismana was invited by Father Superior of the Romanian Church in Jerusalem to visit the holy places. “At first I didn’t want to go, but my family convinced me that I can’t lose such an opportunity. So I left in 1997, alone at first, and I agreed to stay there for a period and work side by side with the nuns. It was very nice and I met some wonderful people who supported me enormously”. Marioara Tantan was to spend the next two years with the nuns.
Now she works in her own workshop and when she can no longer meet the orders, she asks for the skills of her former colleagues from the Cooperative, whom she contracts to deliver in time the required garments for customers. Most of the requests are for traditional carpets from Oltenia, for which she works with pleasure, along with other five weavers. Most of this work of art is produced for the churches from the country and from abroad. The woman proudly claims that traditional crafts are learned in childhood: “All the weavers from the workshop have learned this art well before they were ten years old. But the passion for house craft art is not enough to create a successful business. Even if the workshop has many orders from churches, all the materials are expensive and the gains are small”.
A few meters away, in front of another house, a few young girls look at us, wrap quickly the materials that they are sewing and hide into the house. They don’t know who we are and got scared. The mayor of Tismana, Costel Buzianu says that the women are afraid to not be caught by the tax authorities because they work illegally. “A week ago, the people from the IRS came here and told the women that they will give them fines if they work in front of the gates”. Seeing the mayor, several other groups of seamstresses relaxed and continued their work.