A stitch in time

30.09.2015

Karsaniki needlework

Embroidery doesn’t really float my boat. I absolutely do not intend to prepare a single decorative triangle for my daughter’s dowries. I’m sure they will be bitterly disappointed. But it’s one of two products that Lefkada is best known for. The first one is the fragrant thyme honey and the other is a special embroidery stitch known as the karsaniki stitch. Unlike other embroidery, this stitch has no knots and loose threads on the back, making it perfect on both sides. Although it’s not patented, its recognized that this stitch belongs to the Karya region of lefkada where it has been perfected and lovingly created time and time again for commercial gain and personal pride.

Embroidering was a social activity for the village women.  When they had finished their housework they would sit outside their houses and embroider, a socially acceptable pastime to accompany gossip problem solving. But when the Turkish occupied the island the commercial production was stifled and, I imagine, the women would not have been allowed to sit outside their houses anymore.  Repeated earthquakes which destroyed the island several times over didn’t help either, so the Karsaniki stitch stayed low profile again, remaining in the houses of those that knew it and used it for their own linens.

Greek ladies from the village bent over their Karsaniki needlework

Greek ladies from the village bent over their Karsaniki needlework
(Photo copied from Theodoros Katopodis book ‘In the echo of tradition’)

Attached to this creative pastime however is a remarkable and fascinating story.  It starts with an exuberant young girl from the village of Karya, Maria Stavraki.  She was born around 1865 and when she was 10 years old she fell out of a tree, damaging her right hand so badly that it threatened her life.  The poor girl had to have her hand amputated.  You might imagine this would subdue her somewhat.  Apparently not.  She continued climbing trees, fell out again and damaged her left hand so badly that it was left  deformed.  She was teased mercilessly.  Given the nickname ‘Koutsochero’ (‘one-handed’). According to her neighbour Theodore (more about him later) she was also ‘short and ugly’.  So her marriage prospects are now somewhat diminished.  She turns to embroidery with a creativity and zeal that only a girl with no other distractions can.  She imagined new designs and motifs derived from the nature around her and painstakingly translated them onto local linen using the karsaniki stitch.  With a deformed left land.

Maria Stavraki

Maria Stavraki
(Photo copied from Theodoros Katopodis book ‘In the echo of tradition’)

Maria is believed to have received a bit of divine intervention which brought on the next part of her embroidery journey.  Whilst tending her goat, she said a burning bush fell from the sky and from within the flames, a voice told her she must teach the women and girls of the village and revive the old tradition of embroidery.

Despite her calling, the mothers of the village were reluctant to let their daughters go the ‘crazy one handed woman’.  You have probably guessed that Maria did not give up!  Her persistence and incredible craft won them over eventually.  When the women saw that they could not only make their own sought after dowries, but make a small profit from selling their work on, they revised their opinion of Maria.  And so an embroidery school was born.  In a systematic line, the girls would sit with the linen pinned to their skirts, feet up on a tree stump as they sat on their right hands and learnt the left handed technique of Maria Stavraki’s Karsaniki stitch.

 

 

 

 

 

Argyris Stavrakis

Argyris Stavrakis
(Photo taken from Theodoros Katopodis book ‘In the echo of tradition’)

 

But this incredible story does not end here.  Maria was joined by Argyris Stavrakis.  They were not related, but they had more than a name in common.  Argyris had returned from the first world war in 1912 having lost both his legs.  He needed an income to support himself.  There were no jobs a man could do without his legs, but his hands were in perfect working order.  Maria taught him to embroider and he took to it, producing some unique work in a completely feminine world.  He too went on to teach the local girls.  Both Maria and Argyris went on to live to ripe old ages and their legacy continues.

The works of both Maria and Argyris can be seen in the folklore museum of Karya, a picturesque village in the heart of Lefkada.  The museum is privately owned by Theodore Katopodis and is situated in the house and school of Maria Stavraki.  Theodore was Maria’s neighbor and his mother was one of her students.  It’s a fascinating, musty depiction of Greek village industry and living conditions.  Be prepared for Theodore’s demonstration of the lesson, there is a wooden stick involved if you misbehave!

The village of Karya and the folklore museum can be easily visited from any of our Lefkada villas.

 

 

Once you get over the fright of the dummies, its very interesting!

Once you get over the fright of the dummies, its very interesting!

Inside the folklore museum

Inside the folklore museum

Maria Stavraki's house and school

Maria Stavraki’s house and school

 

Anni gets to grips with the basics

Anni gets to grips with the basics

 

I'm guessing this one isn't here for the needlework...

I’m guessing this one isn’t here for the needlework…

The high street in Karya, selling traditional items.  Under the huge plane trees in the background is the village square where you will find several places to eat.

The high street in Karya, selling traditional items. Under the huge plane trees in the background is the village square where you will find several places to eat.

 

Looking over the rooftops of Karya village

Looking over the rooftops of Karya village

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