It’s hard to imagine there are still women in Europe who weave bed and table linens for their trousseau. Yet, they exist in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, an area that was overlooked in the destructive march toward modernization of the Communist era.
From the mostly Hungarian-speaking districts of Transylvania, these women had continued to weave their wares from hemp and were selling them in the streets of Budapest where they caught the eye of Cara Spinelli.

During the four years Spinelli taught English there she befriended Zsuzsa Sipos, a native of Transylvania, and witnessed the suppression of street vendors by the government.

“We thought we should help these women,” Spinelli said. “We told them, ‘We’ll pay you the same amount you would get in Budapest.’”

Sipos took Spinelli to Transylvania to recruit women weavers and help them develop some products to fit the American market and Transylvanian Images was born.

Thus the traditional bed sheets woven in Transylvania have become spa sheets ($106) and the pillows are made in 16-, 20- and 27-inch squares ($40 to $82). There also are hand towels ($13.50) (pictured //direction//), napkins ($6 and $11), pillow covers ($42), a bedspread ($300), table runners or wall hangings ($42 to $91) and placemats ($9 each). “They had no concept of placemats,” Spinelli said.

The pillows and table runners feature the traditional Carpathian cotton embroidery in black, red, green or blue of flowers and birds with heavy decorative flourishes Spinelli described as “Renaissance, Baroque, even Asian.”

The designs are less ornate than what the women would traditionally make for themselves, Spinelli said, since simpler patterns sell better in the United States.

“If you go into their homes, their walls are covered with colorful embroidery,” she said. “And they love red.”

Transylvanian Images also offers an array of runners, napkins and table toppers in cotton featuring traditional cutwork that young women throughout Europe once made for their trousseaus.

The Transylvanian women no longer produce their own hemp and their villages are slowly modernizing. Spinelli still hopes they won’t give up their weaving too soon.

With the fair pay they receive for their work (Transylvanian Images is a member of the Fair Trade Federation), she said, they earn better than the workers at a local IKEA furniture factory.

Linens from Transylvanian Images are found at Body Time stores in the Bay Area, Scheuer Linens and Swallow Tail Interiors in San Francisco, Tail of the Yak, The Gardener and Global Exchange in Berkeley, Finer Things in Oakland and A Matter of Taste in Los Gatos or online at www.transylvanianimages.com.

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