A Cloth of Wild Country

The textiles of Crete flow through time – inventive and intricate – from the rich repeat patterns found in frescoes to embroidered skirt borders laced with Turkish and Italian influence.

Living in Crete, I have been fascinated by the Minoans, the island’s ancient civilisation. They were masters of fine fabrics and knew how to wear them with flair.

Throughout time traditional dress on Crete has been detailed and there are even embroidery stitches – Cretan stitch and Open Cretan stitch – named after the island. Carpets bear lively local designs. Some are subtle, others bold with vivid combinations of colour.

Today, the fragments of the past, the survival of textile crafts in the present and the dramatic island landscape and mythology, offer ample inspiration to experiment with texture, stitching and the inclusion of other mediums, from paint to pink sand found on the southern shore.

Minoan dress was uncluttered and suited to the sun but more complex on ritual occasions. The beautiful fresco named “Ladies in Blue” in the Iraklion Museum, gives a vivid insight into the dress of women probably attending the ritual of bull leaping. The breasts are bare, the braided neckline curves, the dress fabric has a golden trellis-like design.

Today ceremonies have been replaced by festivals. I once encountered a wedding in the mountains; the men in their traditional dress made from blue felt, linking arms as they slowly walked, singing, before the bridal entourage. And even when there is nothing to celebrate, until recently some older men still wore high leather boots (stivalia) and the fringed black kerchief. The beads represent tears shed when the Turks ruled Crete.

Cretan embroidery is stunning and often outlandishly inventive. Turks and Italians have left their mark but there are too, candidly pagan faces peering from leaves. Skirt borders are the intricate speciality, traditionally worked on a mixture of linen and cotton. In Cretan feather, satin, chain, herrringbone and stem stitches, they richly incorporate vases, flowers, faces and birds.In

 

The island of Skyros produced some whimsical variations:

 

skyros designs

 

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In this workshop we explore Minoan and Greek textiles in detail and then decorate modern dress with a collage of traditional design.

 

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