Sunday, September 13, 2009

spinning along

I'm stretching out this vacation (in my mind) for as long as I can this time!) That's because my daily life, while good, is full of things like laundry and house repairs and moving details. So, vacation is good. Let's keep talking about Crete!
It wouldn't be vacation without finding fiber arts things everywhere we went. Let's start with, say, spinning wheels. There aren't a lot of spinning wheels on Crete; it's not a strong part of their spinning tradition. Spindles are shown in museum exhibits, but not wheels. However, when we were in Chania, at the very end of our trip, we were shopping for knives. Cretan knives are well known for being nice tools, and for someone who cooks lots (me) a handmade paring knife or two is a great souvenir. That said, last time we focused on a bone handle--this time, we were happy to take plastic. Plastic is easier to clean, it's all recycled from something else, and the bone was a lot more expensive. We were paying for the knives when we saw this wheel behind the counter. The flyer and bobbin were on the floor next to the wheel and the cost? 250 Euros. It was a wheel I didn't need, but an antique spinning wheel, in any event!
Ok, now back to the goats... we left our car park in Myrtos (next to the goats) and took several driving trips. We went to Sitia, a city in Eastern Crete, one day. This is a pretty large, bustling place with a lot going on. Our first focus was olive oil--Sitia has some of the best in Crete-- and a good meal at the Balcony, a great restaurant. What we discovered was that the olive oil was available at the grocery store in Myrtos, so we didn't need to drive so far! The restaurant was nice, and...we found a yarn shop. We'd found others, but unfortunately, most are only open in the mornings, so I'd missed going into one. Crete mainly focuses on embroidery and lace crochet now, but I got some nice worsted weight cotton (like Tahki Cotton Classic) at a yarn shop in Sitia. I had the help of a kind Greek American woman who was also a tourist. She was from New York City, spoke very functional Greek and helped me get just the colors (navy and sage green) I wanted!
The trip was made entirely worthwhile by a super trip to a folklore museum in Sitia. I will post on that soon--it deserves its own post, it's an amazing museum.
When we left Myrtos, we chose to stop in a town called Kritsas. It was described as the "biggest village in Crete" and as having some nice arts and crafts. It was actually more of a town than a village, fairly touristy, but very picturesque. (click on all these photos to embiggen, it's worth it!)
As we walked through the town, we heard a sheep's baa and the professor caught a photo of this...looks like this farmer was either transporting these sheep to another farm or to market. They are hogtied, which means their legs are tied together, to prevent them from jumping out of the bed of the truck. The sheep didn't appreciate this (lots of baaas!) but it didn't hurt, from what I saw. It seemed like a logical way to transport sheep in this very hilly terrain. ..otherwise, they'd just leap right out of the truck bed! Also, one could note here that sheep on Crete are a special and primitive breed. Very tough, wily and clever, they provide milk, meat and wool--a true triple purpose breed.
There are lots of textile shops in Crete with embroidered table and bed linens--sadly, most of these aren't hand done anymore, and probably not made in Crete. However, as I walked up through the town, peering into the shops, I saw what could only be a distaff, loaded with wool, and a spindle. I rushed into that shop!

Most women on Crete don't spin or weave anymore. In fact, spinning and weaving were common on the island up until at least the '70's, but today, there's not much need for it anymore, with the improved availability of commercially made goods. However, this lady showed me with very little English, that she spun and wove for her own pleasure. When I showed her I too spun, she was tickled! She got out her handwoven blankets and sacks to show me. They were gorgeous! All single ply yarns, spun with the coarse wool of Crete.
When I tried her distaff and bottom wool spindle, I saw what well-made and beautiful tools they were. Well balanced, and handmade! She explained that they were hers, she had none for sale. She also showed me her handmade wool combs (a lot like Viking combs) that she used to process the wool herself. She did a beautiful job of that, too.
Before we left, she showed us another traditional skill. The cords used on handwoven sacks are braided/woven on a distaff like stick. The stick is tucked under one arm, and the little prongs or branches at the end are used to separate strands of yarn. The braiding is done with both hands free--this could obviously be done while walking or tending children.
I was sad that we didn't have enough language in common to talk further...but thrilled to see someone spinning for fun in Crete. What a universal language we spinners/knitters/fiber arts people have!
...more about the folklore museum next time...I'm off to make a traditional Southern cole slaw for the Biology picnic! (in Manitoba, it might seem exotic!)

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Blogger Willow said...

I LOVE it when spinners and weavers connect, all over the world. The language and cultural barriers fall away.

September 13, 2009 at 2:38 PM  
Blogger Geek Knitter said...

It's amazing how much we can communicate with sign-language and enthusiasm, isn't it?

September 14, 2009 at 10:44 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

I love how universal fiberwork is and how inviting.

--AlisonH at

September 16, 2009 at 3:14 PM  
Blogger cyndy said...

What a fabulous vacation!

Nice that you had a chance to meet someone who could talk "fiber" with you!

September 23, 2009 at 7:00 PM  

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