In the summer of 2020, the Center’s My Armenia Program partnered with Armenian publication Yerevan Magazine to publish a special issue highlighting community-based cultural heritage tourism in the country. Over the next few months, Folklife Magazine will publish English translations of the articles.
During this difficult time in the region, we hope these stories shine a light on the resilience of the Armenian people by showcasing their vibrant, diverse cultural heritage.
Magnificent nature, TUMO Center for Creative Technologies, and an international boarding school are not all that distinguish Dilijan in northeastern Armenia. For more than a century, the city has been recognized for its rich lacework traditions. Curator and My Armenia Program senior museum specialist Nairi Khatchadourian had a conversation about the nuances of that art with local lacemaker Armine Poghosyan.
Nairi Khatchadourian: Did the needle come to you or did you go toward the needle first?
Armine Poghosyan: To me, needlework is a criterion of beauty, a manifestation of art achieved through one’s own skillfulness and mastery. Armenian women have always laid a special emphasis on artisanal handicraft and raised their daughters with that spirit. My mother’s hands, engaged in creative work, were in front of me ever since I opened my eyes.
I spent my childhood in an environment where creativity and love dominated. My mother was very good at weaving with a hook, and she practiced the satin-stitch style of needlework. I was little, but I managed to quickly grasp the “language” of that delicate tool. I started sewing together small pieces of fabric. Gradually, I got used to the nuances of working with the needle. Each result of needlework gave me great internal satisfaction.
Nairi: The needle is a delicate tool but at the same time it can hurt.
Armine: Yes, the needle is a very delicate but also dangerous tool. I learned to be careful and to keep myself and others safe in the process of needlework. This awareness further developed when I started attending Dilijan’s Fine Art School named after Hovhannes Sharambeyan. There I familiarized myself with the peculiarities of lacework with the help of my teacher, Nushik Malkhasyan. It was important to follow the rules of using the needle during work: holding the needle correctly in your hand, keeping your hands clean, keeping in mind that there is a sharp tool in your hands, and keeping some distance from others while working.
Nairi: How important is the practice of lacework for you?
Armine: Needlework is the evidence of the talent and creative force of people. Our nation’s artistic taste, creativity, and the ability to perceive the beauty of the external world surrounding humanity are manifested in this field. Honored art critic Serik Davtyan passed to us studies of traditional lacework. Martiros Saryan commented on this art, “It is not only an endangered art, but also a feature representing the historical fate of our nation.” Davtyan’s work continues today, too, through the new generation that bears, maintains, and transfers lacework traditions.
Nairi: You mentioned Serik Davtyan’s name. She is the first scholar who studied Armenian lacework art and history, and published scholarly articles, catalogs, and manuals. What is the importance of her work for you?
Armine: My mother used to tell me about Serik Davtyan, describing her as a highly versatile and broad-minded individual. I knew examples of her lacework from a very early age. They astonish with their impeccable and perfect form. Her work with patches and satin stitches is amazing in terms of her taste of color and accurate perception of perspective. It’s hard to imagine, but she did not use sketches. Instead, she worked like a professional painter and immediately transferred to the fabric the things she saw. A few examples of her lacework, which are of great importance to me, are on display in the Dilijan Local Lore Museum and Art Gallery.
They are very close to the style of my work in terms of their form, rich patterns, style, and content.
Nairi: How do you transfer the practice of lacework from generation to generation through the students of the Dilijan school?
Armine: During our work, special attention is paid to the story. Lacemaking is like weaving a fairy tale. It all starts from the simple thread at the basis of the lace. With its spinning web-like pattern, the lace then becomes like a wheel of eternity. I attempt to introduce innovations in the practice of lacemaking together with my students.
Nairi: The following needlework patterns were widespread in Dilijan in the first half of the twentieth century: cross stitch (khachkar), threaded stitch, satin stitch, cut, darning stitch, and canvas. The names of the aforementioned types of patterns derive from the respective performance techniques. Which patterns do you use most frequently?
Armine: I have tried all needlework stitch types and patterns. I have used threaded stitch, satin stitch, and darning stitch a lot, but embroidered lace is closer to my heart. The combination of stitches creates an ornament. Different types of rosettes, with images of pomegranates, grapes, asters, and buds are common. Even though different lacework takes on different forms, the harmony of the motifs, the balance and the strong cohesion of the patterns are typically maintained in them. They fascinate me with their subtlety.
The starting point of all the patterns is the net, which constitutes the foundation of the lace. The embellished layers are sewn more densely with a compact stitch. They differ and are separated from each other with a transparent layer, a sparse net of different types, making the lace light, transparent, and ethereal.
Nairi: How are your lacework master classes received? Is there major interest in taking them?
Armine: There is great interest among tourists. When people are interested and full of enthusiasm, it is easy to work. Those who attend our classes are generally middle-aged and elderly people, mostly women. I always tell the history of Armenian lacework during the master class.
Nairi Khatchadourian is the Senior Museum Specialist for the My Armenia Program, funded by USAID and implemented by the Smithsonian Institution. As a Paris-born independent curator based in Yerevan, she works in the fields of contemporary art, design, and cultural heritage.
About the Dilijan Local Lore Museum and Art Gallery
The Dilijan Local Lore Museum was established in 1952 and expanded in 1958 to include the Art Gallery. The museum has a rich archaeological and ethnographical collection, and the gallery displays works by Armenian and European artists from the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries.
About My Armenia
The My Armenia Program, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by the Smithsonian Institution, works to increase and share knowledge about Armenian cultural heritage and build capacity to support the long-term vitality of Armenian cultural sites and practices. Through My Armenia, the Smithsonian seeks to support cultural sustainability by documenting Armenia’s historic and living cultural traditions, sharing this knowledge with global audiences, and supporting the development of local resources and capacity to safeguard this cultural heritage for future generations.
About Yerevan Magazine (EVNmag)
Launched in 2011, Yerevan Magazine is one of the most popular print magazines in Armenia. Known for its high quality, edgy design, and free distribution at more than sixty hotspots in Yerevan (in cafes, restaurants, pubs, and more), EVNmag has become required reading for many Yerevantis—just like coffee in the morning. Even as print magazines fight to stay relevant in an increasingly digital world, with five to seven editions a year and 4,000 copies each, EVNmag remains a beloved and reliable news source covering life in Yerevan.