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Crafting in Crete

Fiona Brennan

It was my tenth wedding anniversary last month so we took a rare break on an even rarer beach holiday to Crete. The idea of going to an island where we put our feet up and are not 'doing' all the time was something that neither of us were used to but a few knitting projects in the hand luggage would keep the fidgeting at bay for me at least. 

We stayed in a beautiful part of Crete, close to Elounda and over looking the island of Spinalonga, which has been made a popular destination due to a book called The Island by Victoria Hislop. I'll admit I was oblivious to this book until I reached our hotel and had no idea how much the local village of Plaka had been written and consequently read about. Although I do now and have located a copy from a local charity shop upon my return. 

Not being the sort for sitting on the beach for a week, we went exploring this beautiful and mountainous island. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the town of Sitia where we received a guided tour of the folklore museum

The museum was a replica of an traditional Cretan house, split into town and country. It explored how the people of Sitia lived during the start of the 20th century and up to around the first world war. 

Women would hand-dye the wool from the local sheep using the plants found along the mountains which surrounded the town. This wool would then be spun and used for either weaving or embroidery. It was common for women to carry around small looms to work on their projects. 

They would weave bags with the wool to carry around. The patterns on the bags would reflect the sort of family the women came from and act as a signal to prospective families who might want to arrange marriages with their daughters. The more complex the designs, the more creative the woman and therefore considered more appealing as a wife. The designs would show what sort of interests the woman would have, the colours reflect their moods and would tell the stories of her life and family. 

It was expected that when married, the women would then use the woven fabric to make the soft furnishings to decorate the home. They would also use other textiles found in the countryside to embroider wall decorations, curtains, frames for photos. Pictures would be made from the cocoons of silk worms, flower petals and embroidery silks. They were incredibly intricate and these women were hugely talented textile artists. 

When not making for the home the women would also make rugs to be sold. Bright colours and geometric designs were popular. 

Knitting is still popular in Crete. I found a number of wool shops selling commerically dyed yarns and one wonderful shop in the capital Heraklion which sold some hand dyed. Typically I bounced in there eager to see what Crete knitters were working with only to find that the shop was actually closed. But I did get a photo of the front window. 

Plus the landscape itself was wonderfully inspirational. 



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