As stated in my previous two blog posts, you'll see embroidered items everywhere you turn on Crete. But due to language problems and an overall decline in needlework in recent years, researching a particular type of embroidery can be hard. And I got all confused when I was told time and time again that the particular items I had seen were woven and not stitched. I was pretty sure this wasn't true for the pieces I had seen in my hotel and in various churches. But it was true for the cheap mono-coloured tourist souvenirs on display in the streets. What's going on here?
This is the type of folk embroidery (or is it weaving?) I am talking about. Without even looking at the back, this screams 'embroidery' to me. To me this is a counted thread technique known as darning. I just love the winged dragons and the overall bright colours contrasting with the white background!
And here is the back. Clearly, this is embroidery. Executed with cotton threads (probably DMC stranded cotton) on a closely woven thicker linen.
Here is an even finer example. Can you see the tiny seeding stitches filling the space between the cocks and between the elements of the vine? They are even present in the two smaller borders. Why are they there? Let's turn the piece over.
Those tiny seed stitches on the front anchor the thread that's carried across from design element to design element. Without those tiny stitches, the thread carried at the back would be far too long and far too loose. Clever, isn't it?! Could this one be machine embroidered or even have been woven on a loom? The example further above and below, do clearly not carry threads across empty spaces.
Here's another example. Not the very fine fabric and the much thicker embroidery threads in comparison.
And the last one. Not so sure of the design on this one :).
Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of the touristic souvenir ones. Design-wise they display the same elements. But they are not colourful. The whole design has the same colour and it is usually in tone with the background (think beige on cream). Or at least that's the ones I have been shown.
So, what's going on here? Do embroiderers and weavers use the same the designs when making tablecloths and table runners? Or does the embroiderer copy the weaver in style and technique or vice versa? Maybe because weaving is much quicker than stitching? And why was it that none of the embroidery ladies I spoke with considered this embroidery at all? Well, that might be due to the embroidery technique involved. After all, these darning patterns are achieved when you use your needle and thread in a weaving motion! Fascinating don't you think?
And now: over to you! Have you ever seen this type of embroidery before? What is it called? What materials are used? Where can I find patterns? I am aware of the Dutch darning samplers and the new book on 'Pattern darning from Norway' by Yvette Stanton. In my opinion, what makes the embroideries from Crete differ, is that they not only depict geometrical patterns. I really love the roosters, the dragons and the floral motives. So over to you! Please share your knowledge and experiences in a comment!
Jessica M. Grimm
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