Working with wood; a Gypsy tradition

Photo description: Bottom: Veshtike Rom spatula, Left to Right: Bertike style spoon (oval bowl), Romanian Roma spatula, traditional Gypsy clothes peg (clothespin), Veshtike Rom stirrer, Veshtike Rom spoon (round bowl), Top: Honey/jam spreader (jam spreader does not, actually, have holes)

The Romani People (Gypsies) have had a knack of making a living from many activities in which they used the materials that were and are found in the environment around them, be this wood or others. Some of those activities today have died out, others continue, such as spoon carving and basket making.

Carving spoons, and the making of other kitchen and household items from wood, is just one of them, another is making baskets from osiers (thin branches), grasses and such.

Neither of those activities are invention of the Romani People, that is true, but the Rom carved – pardon the pun – themselves in many places a niche here and then, later, also in the recycling field well before recycling was even cool and a word.

The various different Romani groups, when it comes to carving spoons, and other kitchen utensils, developed their very own styles which, for instance, differed from the styles of the general Russian (and other) spoon carvers and also those of the Scandinavian ones.

On the other hand, however, the Romani craftsmen and even -women, created many of their own designs of spoons and kitchen utensils from wood, such as the stirring woods and spatulas, which are so very different from those that are found in Western Europe per se.

Designs and styles of the spoons vary too from group to group. The Romanian – and “Balkan” in general – spoon carvers make the bowls, while egg-shape, with the point towards the from while the Bergtike Rom in Poland have the “tip” of the egg towards the handle and the Veshtike Rom spoon has a more or less round bowl, similar to those of the Doukhobors (a Russian sect).

It was also the Gypsies, the Rom, who seem to have been the first, though whether it can be proven is another question, to have created the clothes peg, or clothespin, as our American cousins call it. When exactly the current design of the Romani clothes peg, and with that I mean the one made from a stick and banded with tin, has come about I cannot say but it will have been, I should guess, when strips of metal could be found or made.

When it comes to the Gypsy clothespins there are then also at least two design variations, at least among the Romani People in Western Europe, both Sinti relations. The Romanichals in Britain, and from Britain, use a strip of tin, which is affixed with short nails (pins) near the top end, in general, while the Manouche in France tend, at times, to use wire which is wrapped around and tightened with pliers of sorts. The latter version has a slight safety issue in that there tends to be a little bit of wire sticking out to the side.

Among the designs of wooden kitchen tools designed and made by the Rom craftspeople are many that have never been known before as such. The ever so useful stirring wood (stirring paddle, or stirdle, as I have termed it) is just one of them, as is the rather narrower trapezoid shaped spatula, narrower than the traditional Western European spatulas, both of Rom Polska origin apparently.

The Romanian Roma of the lowlands have a different spatula design, which is akin to the stirring paddle but more of a triangular shape, and the honey and jam spreaders, in both design variations, follow the stirring paddle, or the Romanian spatula design, depending on the makers, but are much smaller, obviously.

Other wooden articles were also made by Romani woodworkers and the wooden flasks that were so very common in Romania were, in general, made by very skilled Rom on a foot-powered lathe. Alas, today, there is probably not one maker left and those that are turned out today are badly made in factories.

“Wood, Leather & Recycled” produces wooden spoons and other wooden kitchen utensils, plus some other wooden and carved products, including also Gypsy clothespins.

Wood, Leather & Recycled