The handknitted silk stockings that inspired this project are part of the collection of the Historical and Folk Art Museum in Rethymno, Crete. Alexandra Giannouli (née Athanasiadi; 1924–2014), a Rethymno resident, knitted the stockings for her wedding when she was twenty years old. Alexandra’s granddaughter Hara Giannouli donated the stockings to the museum.
Located in a restored Venetian palazzo in the center of the old town of Rethymno on the northern coast of Crete, the Historical and Folk Art Museum offers fascinating insights into the social history of the region. In addition to displays showcasing arts and crafts of the area—weaving, knitting, crocheting, lacemaking, and embroidery, to name just a few—the museum also features a re-creation of a traditional Cretan shopping street as portrayed by the noted Cretan author Pandelis Prevelakis (1909–1986) in his 1938 book Tale of a Town (English translation by Kenneth Johnstone; London/Athens: Doric Publications, 1976).
I first visited the Historical and Folk Art Museum in the summer of 2013, when I was researching my PieceWork article on Andriani Chalkiadakis (1908–2004), a native of Crete, who, in the months before her October 1941 marriage to a handsome Rethymno barber, knitted her wedding dress from the cords of parachutes of German paratroopers who had invaded Crete earlier that year (“Andriani Chalkiadakis and Her Parachute Wedding Dress,” January/February 2014). Aware that the museum possessed an extensive needlework collection,
I hoped that someone at the museum might be able to assist me in my research on Andriani. My hopes were more than fulfilled when—through a series of serendipitous connections—Anastasia Platyrrachou, the museum’s curator, introduced me to Mary Andonakaki, Andriani’s younger daughter. Mary and her older sister donated the fixtures from their father’s Rethymno barbershop to the museum’s special exhibition of a Cretan shopping street.
When I returned to Rethymno in the late spring of 2016, this time as a member of a small tour group retracing the steps of Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915–2011), the renowned English travel writer and World War II hero who kidnapped the German General Heinrich Kreipe (1895–1976) on Crete in 1944, I was fortunate to make two visits to the museum. While Rethymno was not on Leigh Fermor’s escape route from the abduction site near Heraklion on the northern coast of Crete to the beach on the southern coast of Crete where the kidnappers and the general disembarked for Egypt, one of the highlights of the museum is a charming Leigh Fermor exhibition that incorporates the two metal pennants from General Kreipe’s car taken as souvenirs by the kidnappers. The kidnappers awarded the pennants to W. Stanley Moss (1921–1965), Leigh Fermor’s second in command, who had confidently driven the general’s car unchallenged through twenty-two German checkpoints during the abduction. In the early 1990s, Moss’s younger daughter gave the pennants to Leigh Fermor who, in turn, bequeathed these relics to the museum.
It was during my 2016 visits that I discovered Alexandra Athanasiadi’s trousseau stockings. Knitted in silk from the cuff down, the original stockings feature a simple lace pattern, which is replicated in the project stockings. As in the original stockings, the back panels of the project stockings are knitted in stockinette stitch to accommodate leg shaping. Unlike the original stockings, however, the project stockings are topped with rows of eyelet beading. Ribbon or elastic can be threaded through the beading to hold up the stockings.
Knit Mimi Seyferth’s “Trousseau Silk Stockings to Knit” available in the May/June 2017 issue of PieceWork. Discover more socks by Mimi Seyferth in the eBook, 5 Traditional Albanian Socks to Knit: A Travel Memoir in Stitches.
Mimi Seyferth, a philhellene who lives outside Washington, D.C., treasures her travels in Greece. Visits with Anastasia Platyrrachou and Mary Andonakaki made Mimi’s 2016 trip to Crete especially memorable. She would like to thank Anastasia for her assistance in gathering background information for this project.