High in the Carpathian mountains residents gather for a regional festival to celebrate their gift to the world, the lizhunyk.
Lizhnyk are blankets made from sheep wool.
There is a loom in almost every home in Yavoriv village.
“Lizhnyk is everything for me, it is my entire life,” says craftswoman Hanna Kopilchuk.
She has been a professional weaver for over four decades, carrying on a craft she learned from her mother and grandmother.
It is an intricate process, she explains: When the wool is trimmed, washed, dried, combed and when the wool is at home it seems like half the work is done, but the second part is left. The wool has to be spun, for example, 5 kilos (11 pounds) of wool is needed for a double size lizhnyk. Then it has to be put into rolls and start weaving. If lizhnyk has the same natural colors as sheep it’s called self-made, but for other colors, the threads have to be dyed. So we spin, then make such kind of roll and dye it.”
The word lizhnyk comes from the from Ukrainian word “lezhaty” meaning to lie down.
Many residents of Yavoriv still sleep on woolen blankets and cover themselves with them just as their ancestors did.
“The first lizhnyks were narrow and long up to 4-5 meters (13-16 feet) because the looms were narrow too. It has been put onto a bench, people lay down on it and cover themselves by it. I want to stress that one sheep’s wool was used to weave them, it’s organic,” says Vasyl Losyuk, Director of Folk Arts Center “Gutsul Grazhda.”
In 1920 the manufacturing of lizhnyks started as a business in Yavoriv.
People began to weave blankets, not only for family use but also for sale. In Soviet times they were made in factories.
Nowadays a craftswoman uses looms that are up to a century old, but in general, the technique of weaving has remained unchanged for centuries.
School teacher Maria Rebchuk says it is important to pass handicrafts onto the next generation of artisans.
“We try to involve children into studying lizhnyks handicraft because this a tradition of our past generations. And our village Yavoriv is one of the villages in Ukraine where the craft of making lizhnyks has being preserved until nowadays.”
Here schoolgirls are taught how to weave as part of the curriculum.
The process of making a lizhnyk consists of around 20 stages – from trimming sheep every spring to washing ready blankets in the mountain river.
Traditionally lizhnyks are blankets, but one younger designer is using the material to fashion clothes.
“We weave simple warm coats for everyday wear. It can be grey, white, without complicated ornaments. Our clients order also kinds of festive and elegant coats to wear on special occasions, for example for going to church. Also, we can weave a long modern coat or cardigan with or without sleeves, better without sleeves, then it’s comfortable for walking in the mountains or in the city,” says Natalia Kischuk.
The Ukrainian region of Carpathian Mountains plans to apply to UNESCO to recognize lizhnyk as a cultural world heritage.