After travelling the world, spending time in the US, UK and Hungary, a Romanian-American couple has moved to Maramures in search for a simple life. Here, in the beautiful village of Breb, Cheryl and Roland have gotten closer to nature, they have started to create their own clothes and shoes and they are documenting it all on their blog, handcraftedtravellers.com.
Now they are working with locals, such as shingle makers, basket weavers and textile artisans. It is an internship of sorts that allows them to rescue some of this knowledge of traditional crafts using natural materials by both practicing and sharing them through the means of modern technology.
Why did you decide to move to Romania? Why Maramures?
Romania as a potential homeland for our family has popped up on and off in our internal debate: “what place on Earth suits us – our life philosophy, sense of freedom and justice, physical and spiritual wellbeing – the best”. It’s always been one of the not too numerous options out there, given that Roland, born in Arad, holder of Romanian citizenship, speaker of Romanian language, being able to navigate the country’s geography and psyche reasonably well could have eased us into the stay at any time. Nevertheless, in our earlier years of marriage we have not felt ready for such a move, leaving perhaps the chance of an open world wide open in front of us. And we did probe the world, looking as far and wide for positive feedback as the U.S., New Zealand, Hungary, Costa Rica, Italy or Great Britain (Scotland and England respectively). Some of these places we never visited in person and some others we spent – what it felt like at the time – far too long in, but at the end of the day, all this search, this repeat questioning, trial and error combined has formed us into who we are now.
Then, finally we asked the pendulum as a compass, concomitantly watched a video of some expats in this particular village, and the two of them converged in our hearts. We got in a car, transferred to train and buses and did not stop until we got to the sign post saying Breb 1 km, a point from which we walked. That’s how we ended up in Maramures, a wonderfully peripheral place, where none of us had ever been before, yet what has featured in our daydreams all along.
It instantly felt like homecoming.
Tell me five things you love about Romania
- free access to nature and wilderness
- kindness in people’s hearts or, in other words, the willingness to give and help more than anywhere else we have been
- the ability to support and be supported by small scale food producers, this way mitigating – if not completely avoiding – the health impacts of processed foods
- soils not so degraded like in other parts of the developed and developing world
there are still people here lovingly making things by hand
What do you think about the differences between US and Romania.Way of life? Nutrition?
As we follow a gluten-free diet, and we have for the past four years, we appreciate having access to different fatty and very nutritious, typically animal origin foodstuff, such as marrow bone, organ meats, fatty bacon, full-fat raw dairy products, sometimes perhaps even going against governmental propaganda of low-fat diets. Regretfully, these are foods both vilified by current mainstream nutritional health advocacy and, sadly, also easily refused by the “spoiled” and squeamish consumers. The folk of Romania relishes these goods as essentials for abundant energy.
Seeing the detriments of genetically modified foods in nature as well as in the animal and human diet Romania would be best advised to stay clear from GM and strictly prohibit the flirtation with this hugely dangerous practice.
Romania is not as rampantly consumer oriented (yet?), people keep themselves active outdoors, including the elderly. Cars and driving are not a must here, which we certainly welcome, while public transportation, even if ad-hoc and grassroots organized, make travel possible to virtually anywhere. Big props for the rail system, something a freeway-based America should envy.
Self-reliance, a lifestyle choice we strongly advocate for and strive to practice ourselves (because we can claim to walk the talk), is much easier to achieve in Romania. The United States is an overregulated country in so many ways, to the point where it tends to choke common sense based practices, which is both counter intuitive and frustrating.
Modern day Romanian way of life is still more family- and child-friendly than the American one. As parents of a young child ourselves, it is something hugely important to us.
What exactly do you do? Could you explain it simply?
We breathe together with nature and wish to inspire others to do the same.
What is the purpose of your blog?
Our blog, Handcrafted Travellers, is about our journey to and in a simple life. We take pleasure in sharing our story of eco-minimalism, artful natural living, environmental philosophy and ideas on how to live lighter on our planet. We regard ourselves a visionary think and do tank, with the focus on the do part: no theory does any good sitting on the couch if it is to truly inspire and engage. We would like to encourage people to live simply, but with passion, to create a better world in which we all live meaningful lives. Live from love!
You seem to have a more unusual way of thinking about living your life, products, eating. Were you always like this? Did you grow up like this or was there a moment in your life when you decided to change?
Unusual, you say… and unusual is often frightening, but for us, we see the beauty, the health, the overall integrity in it, making the unfamiliar, the outside of the comfort zone well worth to try. And it was not in the blood-flow of either of our families to question things. On the contrary, growing up, our families epigenetically passed us down the well-beaten paths of mainstream America and socialist/post-communist Romania, respectively.
However, neither of us ever felt comfortable with this “inheritance”. In our own way, we had been probing status quo when- and wherever it curtailed our sense of free choice. Thus, we cannot report about a certain “aha!” moment. It’s been a gradual shift, with subliminal, almost undetectable inertias alternating with radical moments of having to stand up for our own rights we thought of as innate freedom rights, so a combination of these forces pulling us – wonderfully – in the same general direction: self-reliance on the bases of natural laws, rather than cultural ones.
What is a sustainable life designer?
In a nutshell, a sustainable life designer is a holistic life coach that helps one reunite with her or his intuition, divorced from by outside forces at the earliest stages of life. Moreover, we do this in such a sensitive way as to realign our client’s rapport with the realms of self and the other-than-self so that it harmonizes, is in tune with nature’s universal flows.
What is a minimalist lifestyle?
A minimalist, or – better yet – eco-minimalist lifestyle is a very conducive environment for carrying this out effectively and quickly, because it offers few distractions for the mind and spirit to deal with in the process of realignment with mother nature. It presupposes however an attitude that is already able to cope with the concept of letting go, of not clinging to material and sentimental memorabilia beyond what is essential to the individual’s happiness. It’s a rocky road for many to get there, yet the rewards are plentiful: increased space and time to inhabit, worthwhile relationships gaining more depth and strength, health improvement and so on.
What about people living in the cities? How could they live a healthier life ?
We shall not delude anyone, so let us come out and say it first, city life is against the instincts of the “humanimal”. It can be made less stressful but it will always remain a source of frustrations by its sheer nature, or rather: unnaturalness.
What we suggest to the city-zens is to spend as much time as they possibly can in outside-of-city-limits natural environment, as wild nature as possible and while there cleanse their senses. With these cleansed senses as primary pointers, once returned to the city that provides at least a node of information, gather some spiritual-theoretic support as thoughts of other souls in search of happiness. Chances are good, that the innermost instincts, as a result, will exercise an outward pull on the individual. Listen to it, but before one follows that pull, make efforts to raise one’s consciousness. This is essential step in order for the reintegration in the natural environment to take place smoothly.
What is the benefit of this lifestyle? How do you find changing your lifestyle changed your life?
The benefits of living simply are many and a minimalist lifestyle is gaining traction. When one chooses to live with less stuff they have more time for each other and more time to live intentionally. Life is not about being busy, it is about being present, alive and well.
More and more people are concerned about the environmental damage of overconsumption, and that is good news for helping to reverse climate change and positively influencing the future of agriculture. Once we learned how little we needed, we were able to focus on the important things in our lives – using natural materials as much as possible, to rely on renewable resources rather than fossil fuel inspired cheap synthetic replacements.
Is it difficult to lead a healthy life in this time and age?
It depends on your priorities: if you keep healthy eating and an active life in the forefront, then no, it’s not difficult. We live in a time and age where there is a vast amount of food products to choose from and with intuition we can eat those which are best for us. But truth be told, soils, water and air, the foundation of food health, must be kept sacred and cared for accordingly. Whatever you do, improve on those.
What do you recommend to people that want to start a healthy lifestyle?
Get rid of their clutter, physical and emotional. It all begins in the heart and the head. In our quest to help preserve traditional crafts we are spending the winter in Breb, Romania, gathering as much knowledge and hands-on experience as we can in weaving, shingle making and basket weaving. Quite often the arts and crafts sector lacks support, so we have taken it upon ourselves to start our own funding campaign to make our 6 months as fulfilling as possible. Our project is called Vicarious Romania – we would love it if you donated and shared!
Is it easy to learn how to handcraft your own clothes and shoes?
It is as easy or hard as much or little value one sees in it. We believe that the benefits far outweigh the difficulties of the learning curve: more than just the garments, you are gifted with a wealth of practical skills that never go out of fashion and can continuously be adjusted to present needs. This is time well spent. It is direct outward conveyance of one’s personality, life philosophy, set of values. No second-hand hindrance. An earnest step out into the universe, saying: here I am, I wish to genuinely connect with you.
Where do you find the materials for your handcrafted clothes? How did you learn to create them?
Natural materials and sustainable fibers are hard to find locally, mostly due to the fact that there is little or no demand for them. People are far more interested in ready-made items, and those are in overabundance at markets and second-hand shops. Luckily, we live in a modern world where things can be bought online, everything from raw wool, to linen weaving threads, to hemp and organic cotton fabric. There are a few companies out there producing wonderful materials, we support them whenever we can.
Cheryl has always been interested in making things, and taught herself how to knit in college. It started with a scarf, then knitting in the round: making hats and socks, then on to sweaters and vests. She is a self-taught spinner, able to use both spindle and wheel. Between the two of us we have gathered many handcrafting skills over the years, it takes curiosity and a willingness to learn, shapes are not always what they seem when making a pattern for the first time!
There is a lot to say about waiting out for the right time. This patience – be it a volunteer choice or, more often, the only available option for us – has guided the majority of our adult life, much to our benefit, actually. One might first think otherwise, that patience is a frustrating delay, no more. Yet patience, like the one by which we purposefully refrain from acquiring materials to clothe ourselves or furnish our living spaces until we can come by those that fully meet our ethical standards, is a time well spent mulling related thoughts over and over again, considering more and more aspects, relationships at play, even saving more funds in the meanwhile.
Such was the case for instance with naturally tanned leather, our new clothing material of primary interest. While we lived in Hungary (homesteading there for eight years) we didn’t let the concept of leather clothes come close, thinking that it’s surely unavailable physically and financially. In the two years spent in Great Britain, that followed, the opportunity to finally lay in our lap a workpiece of oak-tanned leather grew considerably, we came as close to it as having lived in the same county where the allegedly single remaining natural tannery operated, but because of its high cost and difficulty to get to we never actually got to touch it. Who would have thought that on our way to Romania we would find what we have been looking for all along, right in the town in the vicinity of which we had homesteaded, even if it wasn’t Hungarian, but Italian produced leather. It feels great to have it in our backpack now, three-four years later, ready to be unravelled and played with. Because learning something new involves a lot of joyful playing around, experimenting and not settling blindly for conventions. This gives you a lot of creative freedom.
Another principle of ours and a conclusion of the above in procuring raw materials for our craft projects, is that when the right moment arises, don’t let the provenance of the material get in the way. In other words, for instance if hemp was no longer available in Romania (due to the regretful present political prosecution of the plant), but is the best suited for a project, bring it in from China or Canada if those are your next closest options, when you are ready, rather than not using it at all, opting for an inferior material offered locally.
The shoes you create, reminded me of the shoes that Dacian tribes used to wear. Why do you think people changed the way they wear clothes and shoes?
Most of us modernites, for two-three generations now have literally and figuratively put on an odd kind of pragmatism. Whereas in the more distant past cheap wasn’t the main concern, neither was saving one’s work and artisanal input into clothing, by and large, nowadays people value shortcuts. It’s no short from a moral aberration, perversion if you think about it. We no longer (or not yet) attribute spiritual value to that what most intimately covers our largest organ, which is our skin – a very permeable membrane. Without thinking about materials we can just pay and pull it on. Ignorance is bliss, right?
We need to physically show (off) the reason, the appeal in crafting part of ourselves into what we wear. How much more story this fashion has to tell? How much more expressive it is as to who we are? The Dacian knew it as much as any other tribal culture living as integral parts of nature and a certain locale within it.
Why did you choose to create your own clothes? Is it hard to find clothes made out of sustainable materials?
We started creating our own clothing before our daughter was born six years ago. We wanted to provide for her a set of clothes that were organic, undyed (or using natural dyes), practical and unbranded. It was a tall order to find baby clothes with our set of criteria, so we had no choice but to learn how to do it ourselves. Starting small allowed us to learn from our mistakes without too much financial strain – it is more expensive to buy natural fabric and make clothes of your own than to purchase store bought!
Yes, it is hard to find ethical, truly sustainable clothing that is not overpriced. It is more likely to be found in a larger city, but we believe that Earth-healthy clothing should be affordable and obtainable by anyone with ease. And this takes us to the principle of self-reliance. Like the eighty year old weaver lady from Breb, Maramures, who said that she used to grow hemp in her own garden and process it all into bed linen.
What kind of products do you create?
Handmade products have a higher value, both spiritually and monetarily, then store-bought. That being said, we make clothing for ourselves when we need it, repairing things for as long as they will last. For sale we have created earthing shoe tutorials, as well as a Simple Living e-course. What we create also depends on where we are and what resources we have access to. We used to sell handspun yarns and felted items made with wool from the Hungarian Racka sheep. Now, that we are in Romania, we are hand-dipping candles with local beeswax and are ready to purchase a used loom to keep us busy throughout the winter months, weaving cloth for sale. We have also found creative ways of bringing the hessian of vintage sacks to new life, something often referred to as upcycling: Cheryl tailors and sews them into fashion shoulder bags for adults and children.
If you are interested in living a healthier lifestyle, you can visit their blog
handcraftedtravellers.com , or support their project here