Anita Apinis, daughter of Latvian refugees Anna and Ervins Apinis, talks about her parents experience of migration to Australia, and demonstrates traditional Latvian weaving on the loom her parents brought to Australia, made from salvaged wood in a displaced person's camp in Germany. She also discusses traditional Latvian weaving designs.
Further InformationVideo Transcript of The Apinis Loom
Interview with Anita Apinis
Well, when my parents were living in Latvia the war started and my father had to leave and my mother decided she didn’t want to stay in Latvia during the war. They were both afraid of Communism. They were afraid of being sent to Siberia, many people under Communism in Latvia had been sent to Siberia, not a lot of people know that. So they were allowed to leave for Germany to a displaced persons camp there. The place they were taken was Memmingen and they stayed there for five years. It was a long time and that’s where my mother met other like minded people, Latvian ladies, who were interested in weaving and the group of ladies got together almost daily in a basement in the old air force barracks of the camp that were converted to a studio and they had set up weaving looms, they had salvaged the looms from where ever they could find them and they had a weaving group going and my mother was one of the teacher’s. And there came a time when one of the students of my mother wanted to get married but she didn’t have a bridal gown. Most Latvians got married in their national dress, their costumes, so her husband to be said he would make my mother a loom and my mother would weave it, so that’s how this loom that I’m weaving on came about. They got the wood from the old air force barracks, from the ruins there, and the ruins are on display in this museum here behind me. It was quite a devastated area but there was plenty of good wood there. And this is the costume similar to the one that was woven for this lady and it was one of my mother’s favourite costumes, from Zemgale, from that region. It’s a very floral pattern, again with the background in black cotton. So that’s how this loom came about. After the five years of my parents being in the displaced person’s camp in Germany, they were given the opportunity to travel either to Australia or to America. They chose Australia. My mother was allowed to take the weaving loom with her. It was packed up in Germany in a big crate that was as wide as the widest piece of wood, so you can imagine it was very wide and my father built the crate. Anyway my mother, my mother’s father, my father and my brother, they all got together and lifted the crate everywhere they went. On the ship, off the ship, then in Sydney they got off and they had to go on the train, so the crate came off went on to the train, and the train took them to Bathurst. Well apparently they got to Bathurst at about 2 o’clock in the morning, that night. They were so exhausted when they got to their room all they did was take the crate out and slept on that. So the first night was spent in Australia sleeping on a weaving loom that was in a crate.
My parents arrived in Sydney and that’s where we settled. My mother had lots of opportunities to do weaving because I belonged to a Latvian ethnic school, a Saturday School, so most of the girls in my class, their parents wanted them to have a Latvian costume. So who was asked? My mum was asked to weave all the girls their Latvian costumes. I was in the second bedroom next to the weaving loom and I grew up hearing the beat of the loom and the constant weaving, morning before work and at night when she came home, she would weave and just about every weekend and so I learnt to weave whether I liked it or not. As I was growing up I thought, well, there’s something in this weaving because my mother always had friends over and it was a really happy place. My father was always helping her. He made all sorts of implements to go with the loom. I didn’t get involved until much later, when I was a teenager, because it was just too complicated earlier than that. During school holidays I’d be spending two weeks just sitting here with my mother and she’d pass me the thread and I’d take it and she’d pass me the next thread and slowly, slowly we’d thread up the loom but I’d started to learn what she was doing.
…and this one in particular is based on one of my mother’s designs, a similar weave to what Latvians weave, the Birdseye twill and that’s my version of it there. So it’s very mathematical weaving and I guess because my mother was an accountant I think hence her passion for weaving, she could figure out her numbers and know exactly how many threads there were and where to count…they’re just various samples…various colours…all based on this same threading of the Birdseye twill…and they can be either cushions or placemats, whatever you like…and this is a bit thicker…some rags woven in and this next one is also made out of rags that my mother’s cut up and recycled…old clothing and this particular one is my father pyjamas. She used to cut up shirts and pants an’ everything else and sew them together into one long strip. Anyway, when I was weaving this one there was a bit of oil paint on one of the strips and I thought “Oh, what’s that?” and I could remember my father, he painted our dog kennel with a red roof and that’s part of the oil paint and that brought back lot’s of memories. The emotions that you put into weaving… This is another rag rug or mat based on my father’s pants, so my mother recycled everything…everything that was weaveable. There’s another one…oh and the white one in the middle, she recycled some bandages. I think she had a sore foot and after the foot healed she recycled the bandages and wove them in…there you are.
My mother used to buy a lot of Blue Bell crepe knitting wool for her weaving but often she didn’t need the full ply, she needed smaller yarns, thinner yarns and she realised that there were three ply’s in a lot of these thicker wools. Now what my father did, he invented an un-plying machine for her which looks like this. You put the thick wool onto this spool here, and he could weld so my father made this himself out of old recycled materials and metals and this is a peach can… the top and bottom, the lid and the bottom…and these are all parts that he’s found around the house and elsewhere…and old spools…and you wind the wool here…and you turn these handles to get it into three single ply’s.
Here you see a doll dressed in national costume, it is Abedon? National costume it’s from the eastern part of Latvia. It was the only costume in Latvia that is entirely white in the skirt, besides the bottom which is red, but my mother wanted me to wear that for my christening. Every Latvian household perhaps had doll dressed in national costume so that’s why we had one and we dressed it in my christening outfit. And the skirt in particular is woven in the pattern that is on the loom now. The threading on the loom can create this pattern that is in the Abadena? costume.
This is Latvian Weaving Techniques, a book that I wrote together with my mother. She helped me put it all together. I actually translated my mothers weaving notes from Latvian into English. She collected a lot of weaving samples and notes when she was at the displaced persons camp, so I put it all in a book in English, took photos of this loom, made up drawings of the graphs. That’s my daughter, Kaya, wearing my old national costume and these are all examples of drawings my mothers done in old note books while she was at the camp over the five years and I’ve just reproduced them here in the book. And the photographs are of my mother’s weavings so you can see how many drawings she would have done over the years because these are all copies of her work and her weavings.
And that’s Mr Beck’s and that’s the lady who he married and that’s the national costume that my mother wove…she wove the skirt and the shawl. And then she was married in this church in Bavaria and this is the reception afterwards and there’s my mother there. So they’re all celebrating the wedding and there’s the married couple there.
Next picture is of the camp at Memmingen and that’s a view looking down from the window of my parent’s room, down into the ruins there.
And this is a picture of me, the first one is of me in my national costume when I was only a baby, I was about one year old and that was my christening outfit. And heres a picture of my mother and father when they were celebrating, I think it was their 50th wedding anniversary.
And this is just a picture of the early days 1950 after they moved to Australia they were living in Bathurst and then they were transferred to Parkes and that’s their room there, in Parkes Camp.