Skilled hands, artistic heart

written by OM International

Beaded yarn necklaces lay across the coffee table, and Gjylfidona* holds blue yarn and two knitting needles between her fingers. “I make everything,” she says, when asked about her favourite product to knit. “Beads, blouses, dresses, hats -- whether easy or difficult -- it doesn’t matter to me. I do everything with my heart.”

The living room of Gjylfidona’s house is quiet in the afternoon, as the windows give a panorama view of the village surrounded by the Rugova Mountains. The beauty of Gjylfidona’s native landscape has made its way into her handiwork, as is evidenced by the delicate greens, browns and blues worked into a knitted sweater lying on couch.

“I use my own creativity. I just make anything that I think will work well and turn out beautifully,” says Gjylfidona.

Gjylfidona has been knitting her whole life, but only in the past few years has it become more than a hobby. After many years in an abusive marriage, Gjylfidona went to a local Kosovar shelter for domestic violence victims.

“At first I knitted in the shelter to release my stress and to relax, but now it has also become a way to support myself and my children, even if it is a small profit,” says Gjylfidona. She is now living at her mother’s home while her children remain with her husband, but Gjylfidona still provides money for their food and education.

While living in the shelter, Gjylfidona met Daniela*, an OMer who works to develop microbusiness skills among survivors of abuse. After Gjylfidona received Daniela’s training in microbusiness in the shelter, she decided to use her skill in knitting as a means of income. In 2013 she joined another domestic violence survivor to open a microbusiness store in a nearby city, selling knitted items, jam products and souvenirs.

“The idea to open the microbusiness was an agreement between me and Daniela, but it was a desire I’d had for a long time,” Gjylfidona explains, taking a sip of her Turkish coffee. “My mother taught me how to knit. I began with just two knitting needles when I was very young, just a child.”

Even while Gjylfidona was in school, her friends and family would order sweaters and cardigans for her to knit. She especially enjoyed making cardigans for new brides, which is a traditional Kosovar handiwork.

“No one was surprised when I began the microbusiness,” she continues. “My sisters like it when I make things for them. They say it is good for me, because I am doing something for myself.”

Beginning a microbusiness has not solved all of Gjylfidona’s economic trials however: “The hardest thing is when my children and I have to experience the lack of something to buy new materials,” she shares.

Despite this, Gjylfidona consciously buys the best-quality yarns for her products, explaining that she does not want to be accused of making cheap products: “I always work with the quality that I would want for myself.”

Although Gjylfidona sells her products in the collaborative microbusiness store, it is still a struggle to keep the store open, since it is only the first year of business. Now, in addition to the Kosovar market, Gjylfidona has also begun to export her products to buyers in England.

“My biggest goal is to be connected and have a network with those who are outside of Kosovo,” Gjylfidona shares. “I like knowing that those in other countries are enjoying and using my creations. It increases my enjoyment and makes me proud. It makes me work with greater passion.”

The hobby that began as a simple stress-reliever has turned into an empowering business venture that extends beyond Gjylfidona’s homeland’s boundaries. Still she has not lost sight of the personal meaning of her work.

“This is art for me,” she says. From looking at her tasteful designs it is easy to see that Gjylfidona’s work flows from an artistic heart as well as skilled hands.

“I think each woman should work first for herself and for her children,” Gjylfidona says. “Even if it just begins as a microbusiness, I hope that someday it will be a macrobusiness too.”

*Names changed

A survivor of abuse in the Balkans knits to support herself and her children.

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