History of Cretan Textiles

Cretan woven fabrics with geometrical decoration are among the richest and most structured traditional geometrical weaves worldwide, even though only one shape, the diamond, and its variants are used. Such textiles have not been woven for years, and few old examples are left. They have been bought by peddlers and sold outside Crete, or even abroad. These textiles are not only beautiful, rich and varied; they are unique, both as to the weaving technique and as to their features.

From an ethnological point of view, these textiles constitute an exception in the process of traditional decoration. Cretan woven fabrics do not present isolated designs but complete complex compositions of geometrical motifs and colours in perfect harmony. It would not be an exaggeration to suppose that this type of decoration not only came from Byzantium but was actually designed by master weavers in the workshops of the Imperial Court, craftsmen of artistic refinement and great experience, with a profound understanding of geometry.

It is probable that these geometric woven fabrics came to Crete in 1092 with the Twelve Lords of Byzantium and their families. The patterns were passed down from one generation to the next, the nobility multiplied and the patterns were transferred to the people, becoming a tradition and folk heritage for Cretan women weavers over the following centuries and the common artistic resource of the island.

All weaving women draw on the same reserve, and although each may believe that she is creating something new, in fact her inventiveness is limited to minor variations on traditional motifs. There is no entirely new and original creation in weaving tradition, or in folk art in general. It is very difficult, almost impossible, for an exponent to overcome the limitations imposed on him by local artistic tradition – limitations of technique, style and expression.

This is why we believe that the Byzantine patterns of the Comnenes have been preserved in the woven fabrics we have found in Crete, dated to the early 19th century. This astonishing fact also constitutes extremely important evidence of 11th-century Byzantine civilization.

Textiles with geometric decoration are woven across Crete, with regional variations and particular features in each area.

Geometrical designs adorn fabrics used for household purposes and decoration, such as various bedspreads, wall hangings, sofa covers etc., as well as textiles necessary for outdoor work, such as “sintzandedes” (saddle-cloths) and the drouvades and vouryies (bags) used by Cretan farmers and shepherds until recently. Due to their use, woven fabrics with geometrical designs are usually woollen, or more precisely of wool and cotton: the warp threads are woollen, while the connecting wefts are cotton.

In “xobliasta” woven fabrics, also known as “embroidery on the loom”, the decoration is woven on the loom at the same time as the fabric. This weaving technique is complicated, time-consuming and requires great care and attention. To create the decorative motifs, the weaver passes the coloured weft, wound into small skeins, through the warps by hand. As different coloured wefts alternate in each row, the weaver must judge the length of each colour line carefully, counting the number of warp threads. New measurements are needed for the next row, as the decorative patterns are created by increasing or decreasing the length of each colour line, moving the line, eliminating it or creating new ones. As the weaving progresses the patterns appear. Between them is visible the background colour, the “ground”. This is shuttle-woven. Usually the different wefts of each colour in the same row are not connected to each other but simply run alongside, covering two adjacent warps. In this case, small interruptions appear in the weave. When the lines of the design parallel to the warp are large, the wefts are intermeshed to make the weave continuous. This is difficult and time-consuming work. Another way to achieve the same result is to pass the two adjacent wefts through the same warp, but this results in a slightly crooked line. In Cretan woven fabrics, decorative patterns with lines at right angles to the weave are rare. Usually the pattern lines are oblique, as the basic motif is the diamond.

Revival of Cretan Textiles

“Weaving Crete” project developed by DAWEC

The Development Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Crete (DAWEC) is a non-profit organization that was founded in 2002 in Heraklion, Crete, Greece. Its main goal is to support and promote women’s entrepreneurship in Crete by providing business training, mentoring, networking opportunities, and access to funding. DAWEC also advocates for gender equality and women’s empowerment in the business world.

The main activities of DAWEC can be summarized as follows:

  • Business training: DAWEC provides training programs and workshops on various topics related to entrepreneurship, such as business planning, marketing, financial management, and digital skills. These training programs are designed to help women entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses.
  • Mentoring: DAWEC offers mentoring and coaching services to women entrepreneurs who need guidance and support in their business journey. Mentors are experienced business professionals who provide advice, feedback, and encouragement to their mentees
  • Networking: DAWEC organizes networking events and activities to help women entrepreneurs connect with each other, exchange ideas, and build partnerships. These events include conferences, seminars, workshops, and business fairs.
  • Funding: DAWEC helps women entrepreneurs access funding opportunities, such as grants, loans, and venture capital. The organization provides information and support to women entrepreneurs who are looking for funding to start or grow their businesses.
  • Advocacy: DAWEC advocates for gender equality and women’s empowerment in the business world. The organization works to raise awareness about the challenges that women entrepreneurs face and to promote policies and practices that support women’s entrepreneurship.

DAWEC has been working to promote and preserve the traditional weaving techniques of Crete, and to use these techniques to create new products that can be sold in domestic and international markets.

One of DAWEC’s initiatives in this area is the “Weaving Crete” project, which aims to revive the art of weaving in Crete and to create new opportunities for women weavers. The project involves training women in traditional weaving techniques and helping them develop new designs and products that incorporate these techniques.

Under the “Weaving Crete” project, DAWEC has collaborated with designers and artisans to create a range of products that combine traditional weaving with contemporary design. These products include clothing, accessories, home decor items, and even furniture. Some examples of the products created through this project include:

  • Handwoven scarves, shawls, and wraps that feature traditional Cretan motifs and colours.
  • Bags, purses, and clutches made from handwoven fabrics that incorporate modern design elements, such as leather accents and metal hardware.
  • Cushions, throws, and rugs made from handwoven textiles that blend traditional and modern aesthetics.
  • Chairs, stools, and other furniture pieces that feature handwoven seat covers or backs.

Through these efforts, DAWEC is helping to preserve the cultural heritage of Crete while also creating new economic opportunities for women entrepreneurs.

DAWEC has several plans for the future to continue supporting and promoting women’s entrepreneurship in Crete. Here are some of their future plans:

  • Expand their training programs: DAWEC plans to expand its training programs and workshops to reach more women entrepreneurs in Crete. They aim to provide more specialized training in areas such as e-commerce, sustainability, and social entrepreneurship.
  • Develop new partnerships: DAWEC plans to develop new partnerships with other organizations, both in Greece and abroad, to increase the visibility and impact of their work. They also plan to collaborate with more designers, artists, and artisans to create new products that combine traditional techniques with modern design.
  • Create a co-working space: DAWEC is planning to create a co-working space for women entrepreneurs in Crete. The space will provide a supportive and collaborative environment where women can work, network, and learn from each other.
  • Strengthen advocacy efforts: DAWEC plans to strengthen its advocacy efforts by working with policymakers and stakeholders to create a more favourable environment for women’s entrepreneurship in Crete. They aim to raise awareness about the importance of gender equality and the need for policies that support women entrepreneurs.
  • Enhance their online presence: DAWEC plans to enhance its online presence by developing a more user-friendly website, expanding their social media reach, and creating more digital content to promote their work and activities.

DAWEC is committed to continuing its mission of supporting and empowering women entrepreneurs in Crete, and to promoting economic growth and social development in the region.

In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of women’s entrepreneurship as a driver of economic growth and social development. As a result, women-led businesses, including DAWEC, are gaining more visibility and support than in the past. Here are some ways in which DAWEC and other women-led businesses are getting stronger and rising compared to the past:

  • Increased access to funding: Women-led businesses are now more likely to receive funding from various sources, including grants, loans, and venture capital. This is partly due to the growing awareness of the business potential of women entrepreneurs, as well as to the increasing availability of funding programs and initiatives that target women-owned businesses.
  • More supportive policies: Many countries are now implementing policies and programs that support women’s entrepreneurship, such as tax incentives, training programs, and business incubators. These policies and programs provide a more favourable environment for women-led businesses to start and grow.
  • Growing networks and communities: Women entrepreneurs now have access to more networks and communities where they can connect, learn, and collaborate with other like-minded individuals. These networks and communities provide a supportive environment where women can share their experiences and seek advice from others who have faced similar challenges.
  • Improved visibility and recognition: Women-led businesses are now gaining more visibility and recognition in the media, in industry events, and in business awards. This increased visibility helps to raise awareness about the contributions of women entrepreneurs to the economy and society, and encourages more women to start their own businesses.

These factors have contributed to the growing strength and rise of women-led businesses, including DAWEC, in recent years. Women entrepreneurs are now more empowered and supported than ever before, and their contributions to the economy and society are increasingly being recognized and celebrated.