rRradionica is a collective of four women from Novi Sad in Serbia; a mother and three daughters. Between them they use a variety of textile techniques to create their stunning works, centred around the traditional forms of hand weaving, crocheting, knitting, embroidery and felting. Gorgeously tactile and richly coloured, the pieces allude to folk inspirations while remaining firmly modern in form. They radiate the joy of their materials – wool, silk, bamboo, and often include vintage beads and buttons handcovered in vintage fabrics.
I started by asking them where the name rRradionica came from, and how did they start in business. Aleksandra explains, “In Serbian, ‘radionica’ means ‘workshop’; our last names are Radovanovic, so three Rs are for three Radovanovic daughters.”
How did they come to be based in Novi Sad? “We never thought about choosing Novi Sad. We are born here, our roots are here. Marijana and Aleksandra live in the house built by Margitas parents. They built it by their hands, walls aren’t quite straight, the ceiling in one room is a bit higher than in the other – it’s perfect in its imperfection. We have great childhood memories of our hometown. It lost some of its charm due to modernization, but some parts of the city are still gorgeous, especially the Petrovaradin fortress.”
While all of the the works are designed and handmade by Margita, Marijana and Hristina individually, they work together as a team, with Aleksandra taking care of branding, photography, promotion and customer service.
“Margita [our mother] was always sewing, knitting, crocheting and just like her mother taught her, she taught us, her daughters, to do the same. When she retired, she discovered weaving. Margita and Marijana already worked together when they had a shop in our home town of Novi Sad from 1989 until 1998. They made hand woven accessories and clothing.
“In the 90’s, it was a very hard time in Serbia (politically and economically), but we continued to make things for ourselves, family and friends. For a long time we had dreamt of having our own internet shop, and when Marijana and Aleksandra lost their jobs, we decided to give it a try. After a lot of obstacles (every beginning is hard, especially if you can’t have a Paypal account), we opened our Etsy shop in the beginning of September 2011.”
Besides working for rRradionica, Margita (retired) and Marijana are both architects, Hristina works for Environmental Protection, and Aleksandra was working in publishing, marketing and design as a graphic designer.
“All of us grew up surrounded with art and craft. Margita’s mother sewed and embroidered, her home was full of handmade beddings and tablecloths. She was also an excellent drawer but she never showed off her talent. Margita was very surprised and excited when she discovered her album full of drawings.
“Living in a socialist country, there weren’t any fancy stores, but we were able to travel abroad. Margita travelled a lot, and she always brought home lovely fabrics and yarns and made great outfits for her family. We remember her knitting while watching movies on TV and the sound of a sewing machine mixed with music filling our home. We were always encouraged to make things by ourselves.
“The hardest thing is, besides being in a rut or creative block sometimes (doing something relaxing helps with that), all our obstacles are non-creative, and are things which other artists/shop owners don’t often experience. There are only a few supply shops in Novi Sad, so if we need something, the best solution is to make it or recycle. When someone travels abroad, we make very long wish lists!” Aleksandra also tells of her mother’s inventiveness: “We have bamboo growing freely in our garden. One day Margita had an idea to make beads from it. Can you imagine a 78 year old woman making beads with a sewing machine and a drill?”
“We also had a big problem with how to receive money from our international customers or to buy supplies on-line, as Paypal isn’t available in Serbia. We found another service, but the fees are much higher.”
They remember the thrill of their first sale on Etsy.”We were very excited to send our necklace to the other side of the world to a patient and trusting person who never heard of us before!” But still the best thing for them has been connecting with other artists/designers and like-minded people, and they truly appreciate the kindness and generosity that has been shown to them through Etsy and elsewhere online.
When I asked Aleksandra who their inspirations were, she said that it was a really hard question, and the list was very long, but first and foremost was the family. “We admire and also influence each other greatly.” Elsewhere, inspiration has come from prehistoric cave painters, Da Vinci, Nicola Tesla, naïve artists and crafters from around the world, including rug makers from Pirot in Serbia, Picasso, Frida Kahlo, many Serbian artists, Missoni and Vivienne Westwood – as well as from “a lot of talented ‘unknown’ people we discovered on Etsy, and the internet in general.”
I asked them if they worked in a workshop together, and what was their space like? “We don’t have a studio, we work at our homes; it’s a creative mess. If it’s neat and tidy, it means no one is working! Also we don’t use sketchbooks, especially when creating jewelry, everything is from our heads.”
“The only exception is sometimes Margita sketches, when she’s in the beginning of a big project. So here’s a photo of her sketchbook, from 10 years ago (including samples of handwoven fabric). She made that outfit 10 years ago. That’s sold, but she made me a hat and coat (from the fabric samples 1 and 2). I’ve included photos of my scarf and belt bag made from leftovers. We don’t sell clothing on Etsy, because we think that people have to try it before purchasing. It’s very hard to sew handwoven fabric, and once it’s sewn it can’t be modified.”
And the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? “’Just be patient and persistent, and work hard – and everything will be all right.’ We often forget the ‘patient’ part.”
With thanks to rRradionica for sharing their work and images here.