People Who Inspire: Ioana Corduneanu, founder of Semne Cusute.

@ ioana
Who are you Ioana Corduneanu?
Driven by passion, tempered by method, I have the ambition to create an Encyclopedia of the Romanian Blouse, called IE. Because I like it and I’m drawing like a sewing-machine: precise and fast. Architect as profession, I activate in retail design and I created hundreds of shops : The one who can design hundreds of shops can also handle designing hundreds of blouse models, no matter how intricate. It takes no special talent, except discipline.
So, who am I?
I am the great-granddaughter of Maria from Bucovina: wife of a mayor and very talented, especially in mixing colors. She designed IE models for all the women around. She taught my grandmother how to make them too. My grandmother was Eugenia and she passed away when I was only 9, but not before teaching me a lot.
I am also the great-granddaughter of Ana and of Alexandrina, from Gorj. They had a life of plenty, that many would envy (well, before the Communist nightmare). They taught my mother the art of embroidery: “You will never have to use a needle. Some other women will work for you. But you need to learn, because you must know the effort they do and understand how much you should pay”.
It is their merit – educating me to value tradition and stand for it.
@ women in my family-1
@ IE in the family - model from north Oltenia - Gorj-2
Ie in the family. Model from north Oltenia – Gorj.
Why did you start Semne Cusute ? 
I did it because I needed something like that :  I waited for somebody else to do it and then  I realized nobody is crazy enough – and if I want it, I have to do it myself. And I knew it will be needed, I saw it coming.
There are moments, when people don’t have a clear vision of what the future might bring, the present is depressing and so they look back in the past, an idealized past, trying to find something reliable, solid and certain.  Inspiration and  ideas to recycle.
Romanians had such crucial moments after 1856 and especially after 1918 – and now is  the time  that we do this again.
I knew the young would try to find answers on Google and I couldn’t let “no results were found” to happen to them. SEMNE CUSUTE = STICHED ICONS.
@ ana in 2007 - wearing 1907 dress
Ana in 2007, wearing clothes  from 1907.
There are meaningful and powerful icons everywhere – on wood, ceramic, metal, stone, even on skin (tattoos) and there are also woven signs – created and incorporated in the fabric / carpets.
Far from being just ornament, they are a visual alphabet. Before writing, people communicated with drawings. Writing reproduces sounds, icons reproduce ideas: fears, hopes, wishes – messages that people used to communicate with other people and with gods. Many nations use the same signs, but in different manner.
– And why the icons on the IE, the Romanian blouse ? I could have chosen any other textiles or objects.

As I said, we have identity issues right now and the IE is talking just about that: identity!

Nobody else from west or east can teach us to be what we are best: Romanians 🙂
@ mandra Chic
Workshop in collaboration with Tara Fagarasului, April, 2013.
If somebody think it sounds stupid & useless : the idea of making your own IE, take a minute, remember Ghandi and how he rebuilt people’s dignity, especially involving women – “make your own clothes”!
IE is perfect for the mission, especially because of the way it carries the icons, in order to express identity, to the last detail, even more detailed than a passport.
In various cultures, people used the icons hoping that somehow, they can trick the faith, fight fears and superstition, attract good luck or generosity of gods. Think of the nomadic shepherds of central Asia, central Anatolia, north Africa: harsh life, lack of water, always on the move, trying to find pastures for their herds – living in tents, no walls to protect them from real or imagined dangers. The carpets they made could not fight any danger alone – the icons were woven to add powers, magic, and hope; or depicted wonderful green gardens they could never have in real life – but only in heaven. Others used the signs as talismans, for good luck; as it wasn’t really in their power to change their life for the better.
But a IE is so much, much different, despite being enriched with similar icons.
A IE tells who you are.
ALTITA – the intricate and dense pattern on the shoulder, must have a structure based on repetitive levels, identical – only the last one is a bit distanced. It used to tell where you belong, what community, as precise as you could name the village.
INCRET – with functional role of elastic, is a stripe speaking of women powers and attributes: seduction, fertility, keeping balance and harmony in a couple. Sometimes it’s white on white, but can also be vary from pale yellows, gold, bronze, brownish.
RAURII – “rivers” is the part where a woman express her personality, her life. Usually vegetal motifs, flowing like rivers, like life, with up and downs, one direction only. The elements are often called “calea ocolita/ratacita” = the lost path. Lost – not as if you don’t know where you’re heading to; lost because you can’t return, can’t turn back time. As concept, it reminds of the labyrinth motif.
@ ideal ie
The colors were used according to the age: vivid reds for young, married or not; getting to darker shades, when women were around 35, transforming into brown and black for mature. When feeling old, a woman knew it’s the moment to return to rather simple and white, getting prepared to welcome the peace, finally.
There were rules about using these icons and it’s wasn’t considered as limiting creativity. Even the most talented writer has to respect the grammar rules. Right?
So, despite of these rules, women had plenty of room to express their personality: combining icons and mixing colors. IE was as unique as fingerprints. You couldn’t find 2 identical ones.
Tradition techniques; the icons and their meaning were transmitted from a generation to another smoothly, yet using an efficient method. Repetition is mother of learning. Well, imagine that all women / girls of a family were working on the same item, like a team, when their schedule allowed. The young girl would have to continue what the mother had started, so she would learn the models. And girls had a lot to learn, considering that – in order to be prepared for marriage – they were supposed to be able to take care of all textiles needed to dress her future family and home.
It was unthinkable to buy textiles and let somebody else ‘dress’ the people you love.
When weaving the fabric, when tailoring, when preparing the vegetal colors, when stitching the icons, women practiced rituals, convinced that their love, expressed in the clothes – it matters.
It’s about the shirts, those in contact with the skin; other items, like boots, winter coats, could be bought, of course. 🙂 But the shirt was like a second skin, an armor.
Do you know that Romanian soldiers, involved in the WW – were wearing the shirt from home right under the uniform – and it wasn’t only in winter. It was to keep them safe: made by a mother, a sister or a wife, with all the love. Or – if they were to die, to be ready for passing. The icons will speak for you beyond death, as immortal as the soul. Some people still stick to this old custom, being buried with their traditional clothes, especially with the shirt they wore at their wedding.
The upper part of the IE, Altita (Alto = up, from Latin) was placed up, on the roof of the house, when somebody died. The soul, after leaving the body, was going up to find cozy refugee in this piece of fabric, while watching all relatives and friends coming to say goodbye.
You see, a soul without a body feels naked and disoriented. It tries to go to the light; the mirrors might distract it, so they must be covered. Also, it might want to settle in a ceramic pot, because it’s made of earth. So all the pots must be broken to pieces. The soul must go up, to the light.
The lateral borders of altita also continue up, after the levels with icons; altita “must be opened, to the sky” – not a closed box.
But the borders also have practical role: it’s where they connect the sleeve with the body of the shirt. IE is a perfect example of design: zero material loss, infinite meaning. Normally, a IE was tailored without scissors, by tearing the fabric into pieces. I don’t think women ever knew that the size and proportions of these pieces fit into the ancient golden rules of geometry. No wonder, as they are result of collective work.
Re-drawing all the models I have gathered so far, in electronic format, will keep me busy for the next 3 years, I guess. And then I’ll move on to the woven signs. In the meantime I’m also working on my own IE, to prove it’s possible and worthy. I hope I’ll be able to convince other women to try do the same. And of course, is this special project for Bessarabia.
@ drinking at work in Bessarabia-1
I have to recover 40 models of blouses, authentic and very old, some of them never seen before by the public – all from the Patrimony of Moldova, The Ethnographic museum in Chisinau. Like an archeologist, completing and recomposing a pot from broken pieces, I’ll do the same for the blouses. I’ll prove they can be brought back to live – the sleeping beauty is not dead! My intention is to present the first results + a SURPRISE at the end of May, in Chisinau, in the museum so dear to me. Then celebrate my birthday with their tasty cherry cakes and the best wine in the world !
Unfortunately I can’t name what’s the beauty and meaning coming from Romania. I’ve traveled abroad 100 times, seen beautiful mountains, seas, countries, people, explored their cultures and tasted their food. There is beauty to be found in every country, if beauty is what you’re looking for.

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