I've had several requests from Avlea stitchers about visiting Greece as a stitcher, so I've coordinated with Rachel Pogois (an Avlea stitcher who resides in Athens) and we've come up with the following suggestions. Neither of us consider ourselves "experts", but we do have unique viewpoints. I (Krista) have visited Greece multiple times over the last 20 years to source supplies for my liturgical tailoring business, so I've had access to more textile information and experiences than your average tourist. Rachel is American and she and her Greek husband have lived in Athens for over 50 years. We'll keep adding to this post with more info as we have it, so feel free to comment with your own recommendations if you've visited Greece!
Krista: I always travel with a small stitching project that I can show to someone to explain that I know how to stitch (I've often encountered utter shock that an American still does handwork!). This has resulted in some of my favorite interactions in Greece--one time I was visiting the teeny-tiny chapel at the harbor in Aegina while I was waiting for the ferry and I got in a conversation with the two women tending the chapel. As soon as I showed my embroidery, they started enthusiastically showing off the various handmade items. I also keep photos on my phone of my completed pieces that I can whip out if I meet someone
who loves embroidery. So, take a little project and photos and be ready to share.
Rachel: My first suggestion to anyone visiting any place in Greece is to find the local museum; even small villages have them. It may be called a Cultural, Folk, or Historical museum. Some seem unimportant because they focus on local products or a historic event, but often there will be displayed an embroidered headscarf, window curtain or traditional dress of that area. They can be real treasures of fiber art and history. Another wonderful way to see embroidery is in traditional houses open to the public. There are quite a few scattered around the country- Patmos, Metsova, Kastoria, Santorini, etc. Some churches of importance and monasteries include museums too.
Every area in Greece is very unique and different from every other area. This is evident in the food, clothing, music, dances, architecture, color and style of fiber art. Be on the lookout for local organizations of traditional dance, craft or handwork. In different areas public holidays are celebrated with programs including food, music, dancing, local customs and traditional clothing.
Unfortunately embroidery is not a art that many young people are interested in learning or using in their homes today. That said, every home has their special pieces made by grandmother, mother, aunt or friend. Depending on the circumstances or relationship if an interest in needle work is expressed drawers and cabinets may be opened revealing wonderful pieces.
Krista: Rachel is spot-on about asking to see embroidery pieces--when my Greek friends realize I'm interested in embroidery, they love to show their treasured pieces to someone who really appreciates them (see the photo below of some of my friend Evi's embroidery collection). The other place I always go to visit is the local "ergoxeiro" shop (literally "hand work" shop). These typically feature a variety of crafts (sewing, knitting, and embroidery) so they have a little bit of everything. Some specialize more in traditional supplies, some in knitting, etc. so you just have to go in one and see what they have. The word for embroidery in Greek is "kenthyma"--memorize that! And, remember to show your photos--that goes a long ways towards showing an ergoxeiro clerk what you might be interested in.
Rachel: Many of the neighborhood Ergoxeiro stores went out of business beginning with the economic crisis and during the Covid quarantines, but those remaining seem to thrive now. “Ergoxeiro” stores now stock more yarn than embroidery supplies and ground cloth is not measured by thread count per inch. Recently I have noticed a few designs that are marked “X” number of threads per 10 centimeters, but I take my little gauge and count the threads myself of the ground cloth I am interested in.
Here are the three ergoxeiro I and my friends use in Athens:
Ergochiro Klitiou 8, 105 60
Hobby Lobby (no relation to US chain store) Kolokotroni 33, 105 62, www.hobbylobby.gr
Vitrina Ekeini, Nabarinou 11, 106 80
There are also three Greek needlework magazines I like:
Things to see:
The Benaki; Athens, www.benaki.org
Museum of Greek Folk Art , 17 Kydathineon St., Plaka; Athens
Center for Popular Craft & Tradition, Aggelikis Chatzimichali 6, Plaka; Athens, 210 324 3987