Crete: the embroidery island
I am back from a lovely holiday to beautiful Crete! Apart from incredibly hospitable people, fascinating archaeological sites, good food and wild landscapes, Crete is an island full of embroidery. You'll encounter beautifully embroidered household linens in homes, hotels, restaurants and churches. It consists mainly of whitework, cross stitch and bright folklore embroidery. Goldwork embroidery is the almost exclusive domain of the Greek Orthodox Church. Apart from seeing beautiful embroidery, I love meeting fellow embroidery enthusiasts and buying local embroidery supplies. So this first blog post on Crete is on embroidery shops.
Where does one buy embroidery supplies? At the local mini-market for instance. We stayed in Enagron ecovillage near Axos and the mini-market in Axos sported a decent supply of DMC stranded cotton, perle and crochet yarns. As I did not see any fabric, I enquired at our accommodation to find out about any other shops in the vicinity. Our hosts turned out to be avid embroiderers themselves, so we had a pleasant conversation on embroidery. I even taught them how to do a bullion knot as they were mesmerized by the bullion roses on my needlecase.
Armed with an embroidery shop address in Perama, me and my husband hunted it down. Not so easy. Shops have a very different look on Crete compared to over-orderly Western Europe :)! The Cretan version of an embroidery shop is a long and narrow dark room stuffed with supplies. You can hardly walk in there. And it is interesting to see what other items are on sale: towels, bed linens, socks and nylons, etc. Explaining what you want is difficult too. The ladies in the shops are elderly and very helpful, but only speak Greek. As they also sell finished embroideries (watch out: not necessarily made in Greece!, more likely cheap and cheerful China and Tunisia), they assume you come for that. It helped that I carried some finished embroidery myself to show them.
The embroidery shops in Perama mainly sold DMC stranded cotton, perle and cotton a broder. Fabric-wise, they have aida, coarse linen, sparkly canvasses, pre-printed canvasses and simple embroidery kits. They also have books full of embroidery designs (cross stitch, richelieu and folklore) of which they can make a copy for you. You can also find needles, sewing thread, crochet yarn, wool, etc. It is best to carefully browse the heaps of supplies. I was lucky and found a piece of sand-coloured 100% fine linen from France. I also bought some perle yarn. After all, these ladies can really use the money as the consequences of the austerity measures are clearly visible. You can find one shop on the Palea EO Rethimnou Irakliou next to the National Bank and the other one almost opposite on Epar. Od. Peramatos-Exantis.
Apparently, beading and making jewellery is incredibly hot among young people in Greece! The shops where you can find beading supplies are bright and organised with a hip and urban feel. My favourite was Perla in Rethymno. I was especially taken with the wide selection of beads and cabochons made of semi-precious stones. The young woman running the store is a maker herself and speaks excellent English. She told me that she will soon open a webshop. If you'd like to stay in the loop on that, why not visit her facebook page?
I also located an embroidery shop on Eth. Antistaseos, also located in the old town centre. Two young women ran the store when I visited and they were very helpful. They had a heap of old DMC pattern leaflets in Greek. They weren't selling them, but I was allowed to take photographs. In return, I bought some #9 needles and some cotton a broder #30. They also sold linen fabric for richelieu embroidery. I saw the traced patterns behind the counter. Apparently, you buy the fabric and threads and have the pattern of your choice transferred onto the linen using blue carbon paper. The ladies told me that cotton a broder #30 is the finest thread they stock nowadays as this type of embroidery is not so popular anymore.
The last shop I visited was Gini in Heraklion on Kalokairinou Avenue. For me personally, this shop was a little too loud! The girls behind the counter where of the giggling type. Nevertheless, I managed to buy some more beads made of semi-precious stones and some fresh-water pearls. Gini has several shops throughout Greece and sells online too. They have a 50% sale going on...
If you know of any other embroidery shops on Crete, please leave your recommendation in a comment below. It would be lovely if this blog post becomes a reference for all who plan a holiday on Crete! Next week, we'll have a look at some of the beautiful embroideries I encountered.
Today I am going to write a bit about my love affair with Schwalm embroidery. You see, I can pinpoint exactly where I encountered this pretty whitework embroidery technique for the first time. Not in its native Hessia, one of the federal states of Germany. Nope. It was Inspirations issue 69 in the spring of 2011. The beautiful 'Sense of Place' by Luzine Happel featured hearts, sunflowers and tulips filled with pretty patterns. I so wanted to learn this embroidery technique! But, I had never done any whitework embroidery other than a huge Richelieu window pane featured in an embroidery special of the Dutch Libelle. Luckily, I had just started my Royal School of Needlework Diploma course. And it happened to include a whitework module. Little did I know that they had never heard of this type of embroidery. And my tutors weren't thrilled at the prospect of teaching me something they were not familiar with. So I ended up with a whitework sampler featuring only a little bit of true Schwalm embroidery. And yes, I didn't like the prospect of an all-white piece either :).
Now most of you will by now know that I don't like table cloths. Although, to be honest, there is nothing wrong with these pieces of textile. It is just that when I tell people that I embroider for a living, THEY picture me amidst heaps of neatly stacked embroidered table cloths. Now that gives me goose bumps. But for the wrong reasons. It truly freaks me out. Embroidery is so much more than just a means to adore a table cloth! Instead, one of the Schwalm-things I made was a nativity scene to be hung in front of my kitchen window. It is an ongoing process and I hope to add camels, a donkey and an ox this year.
And although I like white, I like colour better. White reminds me of those pretty shoes I once had as a girl. They were lovely, but not so white for long. The same with those pretty lacily white stockings me and my younger sister wore under our Sunday dresses as girls. They attracted dirt like nobody's business. So in came the use of colour in my Schwalm embroidery projects.
Now, traditional Schwalm embroidery is done with cotton a broder. A not so shiny non-strandable cotton thread. It is nice, but cotton perle and silk threads are nicer. Or at least in my opinion they are. I especially like to use variegated threads as they form pretty colour patterns when used with the many different Schwalm filling stitches.
So, by now, I had changed the colour of things, the materials and the stitching topic. What's next? How about adding a stumpwork technique to the mix? Using wired elements with Schwalm embroidery really tickled my fancy! It looks so elegant and yet isn't too hard to create at all. If you would like to have a go, why not try my 'Elegant Schwalm Butterfly' pattern or full kit? A great way to learn the basics of Schwalm embroidery without ending up with a (partly-stitched UFO) table cloth :).
But I wasn't quite finished yet! How about one shrinks the butterfly? For instance, until it fits a tiny 4cm Dandelyne wooden hoop. Thanks to my training in Appenzeller whitework embroidery, I knew that you can add tiny filling stitches (some the same as in Schwalm embroidery; after all there is only so much you can do with a blank grid) into a tiny grid of withdrawn threads. Born where the elegant butterfly pendants! Still using original heritage skills, but sans the table cloth. After weeks of stitching (one butterfly takes about six hours to create), I now have a colourful bunch of lovely butterfly pendants for sale in my webshop.
If you would like to know more about the traditional form of Schwalm embroidery (including its use on folk costumes), check out Luzine Happel's website and blog. Also available in English. Luzine self-published a whole library on Schwalm embroidery. These are very good books if you want to learn this pretty whitework technique. I highly recommend them! The books are available in German, English and even French. Happy stitching!
As promised in an earlier post, here's how I load-up my tiny masterpieces into those clever Dandelyne mini-hoops. Although your mini-hoop comes with mounting instructions, I did not find them very useful for heavily embroidered pieces. You see, Dandelyne advises you to just push your masterpiece in from the back using the wooden centre piece. Then you glue your excess fabric onto the back of this wooden centre piece. I am sure this works just fine when you use a printed fabric or something quite sturdy like an aida with some cross-stitch embroidery. However, it does not work so brilliantly with heavily embroidered slippery fabric. Fear not! Here's the solution. And it is pretty simple too!
Once you've cut out your mini-masterpiece (including the seam allowance!), stitch a running stitch along the edge using sewing thread. Use a knot to anchor your thread and don't place your stitches too close to the fabric edge (fraying!). Place the wooden centre piece on the back of your embroidery.
Pull your thread taut so the fabric folds around the wooden centre piece. Check the front, adjust if necessary, then start lacing. I am sure there is a pretty looking orderly way to do this, but that's just not me I am afraid. When sufficiently laced, secure your thread well.
Now you can carefully push your mounted embroidery into the Dandelyne hoop from the front. This gives you maximum control over where it is going. And the whole lacing prevents it puckering, especially near the screw at the top. Once your embroidery is in, follow the Dandelyne instructions for adding the screw. Masterpiece finished!
Where to find the original Dandelyne mini-hoops? There is a special section on the Dandelyne website stating stockists in your country. Accidentally, my first three miniature Elegant Schwalm Butterfly necklaces are up for sale in my webshop!
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