Monday, November 11, 2013

Estonian Venture

My religion is quilts
I believe the textiles
Sewn in quilts have made it to heaven

- by Marja Matiisen, Viljandi Academy of Culture*

Kim, my Yokohama friend, a veteran skier (see Kim's Mont Blanc Ski Trek) headed for the Baltic Sea this time, because her ski trip got cancelled. This time she and a long time friend from school wanted to explore knitting and quilting in Estonia. Estonians make up the majority of the population and have rich cultural traditions - love of music, dance, choirs, folk arts, including colorful knitting and embroidery, probably still untouched and unseen by any Asians.

They started contacting possible knitters or schools who would accept them via the Internet and the effort paid off in friendly social networking and trips to inland, as well as beach cities, plus a couple of interesting off-shore islands. They flew to Helsinki and crossed to Tallinn on June 20 this year for a three week visit.

Kim, who knew I was in Tallinn, sought my advice, but my trip was a day excursion returning the same day. The only advice I could give was reminding her of the hour time difference between Helsinki and Tallinn. I‘m afraid I was one of those tourists that blindly recite the UNESCO designation that Tallinn represents Medieval Estonia. Yes, Tallinn, Tartu, Viljandi, Parnu, and Narva were among the listed Hanseatic/Teutonic cities, but Estonia soon became the battleground for centuries where Denmark, Germany, Russia, Sweden and Poland fought their many wars over controlling this important geographical position, with most of the Teutonic castles wrecked and ruined.

Swedish control did not last long because Russia defeated Sweden in the Great Northern War. The Russian revolution gave Estonia a good dispute and the Tartu Treaty in the early 1900s, but with the outburst of World War II, Russia annexed and suppressed Estonia for almost a century. Estonian independence came in 1992 when the compassionate human chain was formed among the Baltic three countries - Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. Estonia joined EC in 2004 and has used the Euro since 2011. It is nicknamed today as the Baltic Tiger.

I am fascinated with Kim's travel photos and notes, realizing that you have to be out of Tallinn in order to know real Estonia, its diversity and hidden ethnic world. In hopping across the country, they used bus transportation which was more convenient than railroad. The bus was the right choice, leading to human interactions and warm hospitable receptions. Kim's party was greatly helped more than once by friendly drivers with a willingness to serve. For example, Kim dared to visit Koguva, a tiny village on Muhu Island, famous for the best preserved 18th/19th threshed barn house. Taking a bus to reach Koguva seemed challenging, particularly on the weekend. They were able to visit it with the voluntary help of the inn bus driver, who ferried them to the mainland.

I was told Estonians cherish the countryside and even urban dwellers maintain strong rural ties. Associating with their belief in the earth spirit**, I believe the Japanese and Estonians have a similar frame of mind.

I wish to congratulate the success of their venture and look forward to seeing their report on Estonian knitting.


1) Viljandi Academy of Culture merged with the University of Tartu in 2005. The UT VCA teaches professional higher education and performs applied research within information science, culture education and creative arts. The academy has about 1000 students, half of whom are open university students. Kristi Joeste, lecturer of Estonian native crafts met Kim and her friend and conducted an intensive workshop. Please visit Kristi's blog written in both Estonian and English.

2) The belief system of indigenous Estonians is called "Maausk" to which the Japanese concept "Satoyama" comes close.

3) Most Estonian island ferries carry buses and cars. Kim told me that the Baltic Sea freezes in winter, enabling cars to cross the ocean to small islands. Fantastic! Caution needed by keeping your direction fixed and being mindful of overall weight.

4) Kim's photo album

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