Embark on an excursion to the Balkan nation of Albania by knitting the Butrint Beige Textured Socks, which were featured in the PieceWork eBook 5 Traditional Albanian Socks to Knit eBook: A Travel Memoir in Stitches by Mimi Seyferth. Here’s Mimi to tell us about the inspiration behind these fabulously textured Albanian socks.
The four-leaf quatrefoil-like design of these socks, which were purchased at a craft stall at the Butrint archaeological site, are evocative of patterns found in the renowned pavement mosaics of Butrint. These mosaics, which date back to the Roman period of Butrint, were constructed primarily from pieces of locally available white and pink limestone and black chert, as well as red tesserae cut from fired clay tiles.
The four-leaf design appears in a particularly fine mosaic pavement found in the vestibule of a Roman domus (townhouse) built near the Vivari Channel, which links Lake Butrint to the Straits of Corfu. In that mosaic, the four-leaf design serves as the border to panels with theatrical masks that the archaeologist Inge Lyse Hansen describes as “a striking and eye-catching display of the owner’s learning and cultural ideals.”
The four-leaf design also appears in the border of a floor mosaic laid in the sixth century CE in the Butrint Acropolis Basilica. In that floor mosaic, the four-leaf design frames depictions of a variety of marine and land animals. Although we do not know if the knitter of the original socks based the design on the Butrint floor mosaics, the apparent connection between the original socks and the place of their purchase is pleasing.
When he headed the Butrint Foundation, Rupert Smith encouraged local crafters to sell their work at the archaeological site, but he found that, because Albania lacked a strong market tradition as a result of its many years of Communist rule, the crafters did not initially appreciate that they should coordinate their wares with the season in which they would be sold. Fortunately for me, the local crafters still have not completely absorbed this lesson, and the original socks, knitted from a warm heathered wool, were available for purchase in late spring.
The construction of these socks is unusual for socks from the Balkan region in that the socks are cast on at the cuff and worked down to the toe. Balkan socks are traditionally knitted from the toe up.
Mimi Seyferth is a frequent PieceWork contributor.
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Featured Image: Detail of the Butrint Beige Textured Socks, which were featured in the PieceWork eBook 5 Traditional Albanian Socks to Knit eBook: A Travel Memoir in Stitches. Photos by Joe Coca.