Antonia Rusković Radonić, Silk production and Konavle embroidery

HR_Antonia Rusković Radonić_Silk (2)

Antonia Rusković Radonić, a silk yarn maker and founder of AR Atelier, is deeply passionate about preserving the traditional handicrafts of Konavle, a municipality in southeast Dubrovnik known for its rich embroidery history. To safeguard this unique craft, Antonia avidly collects historic pieces of local national costumes, meticulously studies their production techniques, and hosts various educational workshops and programs.

Name of Craft in the local language
Svilarstvo, uzgoj svilene bube i proizvodnja svile, vezenje, konavoski vez
Type of Craft
Traditional silk production, mulberry silkworm cultivation, silkworm breeding, silk production and extraction, creation of Konavle embroidery
Knowledge Holder
Antonia Rusković Radonić
Location, Website
AR Atelier, Gruda 49, 20215 Gruda, Croatia; Link to website
Contact
antonia.ruskovic@gmail.com, +385912011999
Type of Business
Artistic craft
Year of Establishment
2003
Successors
n/a

Workshop and sales space
Workshop space, space for educational programs for up to 35 visitors, promotional space (works, promotion, collaboration with the Konavle County Museum)
Materials
Cultivation of mulberry silkworms, silk and other fibers for work
Technology / Tools / Machines
Traditional wooden tools: spindles, distaffs, loom, needles
Techniques / Processes
Breeding silkworms on mulberry leaves, which they feed on, harvesting the cocoons, collecting the material, developing silk yarns from cocoons in many different ways, both from whole and broken cocoons; silk thread extraction: boiling cocoons in hot water, reeling thread from each cocoon into individual long threads (1 cocoon produces 1 single strand of silk), winding on a reel or by hand in a figure 8 motion, and washing with soap and water; silk thread spinning: hand-spinning, ring-spinning, mule spinning, and spinning wheel; silk yarn dyeing: dye baths for yarns to soak up the colour; silk thread weaving: satin weave, plain weave, and open weave
Members / Employees
5
Apprentices
n/a
Education of the Craftsperson
Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, Academic painter

Best-selling product
Various applied and decorative items created by several techniques like hand painted silk, pottery, and traditional Konavle embroidery
Average time of production
6 – 8 weeks – breeding of silkworms; 4 hours – thread extraction and spinning
Average price per item
20 EUR – framed embroidery 13x13cm; various prices for workshops and other programs

Qualified as a traditional craft by the Croatian Chamber of Crafts; Registered as protected intangible cultural heritage by the Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Croatia

The Konavle embroidery is a fundamental decorative element of women’s traditional attire, originally made from silk threads and positioned on its bodice and cuffs, with symmetrical geometric patterns forming countless designs. Every stitch was unique and reflected the skill, wealth or poverty of their embroider.

Silk production has been integral to daily life since preindustrial times, deeply rooted in the region’s history. Primarily women engaged in silk yarn production, breeding a special silkworm that feeds on the leaves of widespread mulberry trees.

Known as Bombyx Mori, or the silkworm, this insect belongs to the Lepidoptera order. It is considered one of the most beneficial insects in agriculture, alongside bees. In Konavle, it is affectionately called ‘bubica’ (little bug).

Today, the survival of this heritage, once passed down through generations, relies on enthusiasts like Antonia to prevent it from fading from collective memory. As fewer people become familiar with this craft, which is listed as intangible national heritage, it faces the risk of being forgotten.

  • HR_Antonia Rusković Radonić_Silk (3)
  • HR_Antonia Rusković Radonić_Silk (1)

AR Atelier is located in a traditional stone house in Gruda, spanning two floors. The ground floor features a street-facing showroom and sales area. The upper floor is reserved for educational workshops and provides additional space for breeding silkworms and spinning silk yarn.

For the past 17 years, Antonia’s atelier has been the only place in Konavle where one can learn about silk production.

The process begins with gathering mulberry leaves and branches from the surrounding area and foraging in nearby fields and groves to prepare for the breeding season. Visitors then have the opportunity to observe the silkworms up close and witness their life cycle, which is synchronized with the mulberry trees’ seasonal changes. This process ultimately results in a shimmering, durable, and uniform piece of fabric.

The cycle from fertilization of the mulberry silkworm to the formation of a cocoon suitable for silk extraction takes about eight weeks. The cocoons are either white or yellow, subtly differing in shape between male and female specimens. After they are gathered, 10 to 20 cocoons are placed in a pot of heated water.

The thickness of the resulting silk is determined by the number of cocoons, and the silk worker can feel the thickness of the silk by touch. By gently stirring them using a branch or small whisk, Antonia collects the strands released from the cocoons and draws them out – one cocoon produces one single strand of silk, which can reach lengths of 1500 to 2000 meters.

The raw silk thread is then wound by hand or using a spool into a skein, then dried and manually rewound onto a spindle. Lastly, it is boiled again in soapy water to become soft, glossy, and turn white.

An important aspect of AR Atelier’s work is the education and dissemination of knowledge regarding silk production.

AR Atelier has produced and co-published several books on traditional crafts, handicraft techniques, and collections of embroidered textiles in collaboration with the local Konavle County Museum in Ćilipi and other partners.