Some years ago we spent a few days in Delphi, one of the most dramatic of ancient Greek archeological sites. Delphi is situated high on the side of Mt Parnassus, a mountain holy to the ancient Greeks, and commands a spectacular view above the Gulf of Corinth. Looking across the Pagasitic Gulf from our house we can see the peak of Mt Parnassus rising up on the mainland, covered in thick snow; the ancients would be surprised to see the ski resorts!

Temple of Apollo at Delphi
View from Delphi over the Temple of Apollo

Like the ancients, I don’t ski, but I share their reverence for the site which is awe-inspiring and never fails to enthrall and humble me. The famed Oracle of Delphi made her pronouncements in the Temple of Apollo, and great was the fame of each successive oracle. Her prophecy was ambiguous: the person receiving the advice would interpret it to suit his or her purpose, sometimes with catastrophic results, as Croesus found to his cost.

A pilgrimage to Delphi, a place difficult to access, was a memorable experience for those who undertook it in ancient days, and it was for me too on my first visit there, but not entirely because of the ruins and the Archeological Museum.

A charming employee at our hotel, Maria, noticed me knitting and told me as we chatted that her mother was a very dedicated knitter, and asked if I might perhaps like to meet her? Would I? Most certainly! There and then it was arranged that Maria, who lived with her mother nearby, would take us home during her lunch hour which she routinely spent taking care of the elderly lady.

The Greeks are renowned for their philoxenia, which translates literally to love of the stranger, or hospitality. In spite of her duties Maria managed to purchase a box of delicious cakes before we accompanied her home, where she and her delightful mother were the epitome of philoxenia.

Mrs Katerina
Mrs Katerina – an inspiration

Mrs Katerina, Maria’s very elderly mother to whom she attended with a devoted love, was dignified, gracious and generous. Generous in every way. I peppered her with questions – about her life, her knitting and other needle arts, and about the Second World War. The war in which Greece suffered immeasurably. The war in which thousands perished from famine. The war in which the Greeks fought with characteristic courage, as they have done throughout the centuries, and about whom Churchill said:
“The word heroism I am afraid does not render the least of those acts of self-sacrifice of the Greeks, which were the defining factor in the victorious outcome of the common struggle of the nations, during WWII, for the human freedom and dignity. If it were not for the bravery of the Greeks and their courage, the outcome of WWII would be undetermined.”

Mrs Katerina was a young girl in that war, enduring unimaginable horrors and atrocities, misery and anguish, like so many thousands of others, and, like all those who survived, suffering the effects for the rest of their lives. I have said Mrs Katerina was generous, and she certainly was with her material goods, but it’s her generosity of spirit which I will never forget. Not once did she condemn, not once did she criticize, not once did she express contempt. She answered my probing questions, she told her horrifying stories, but she did not ever pass judgment. Not once.

We drank coffee, ate cakes, and talked knitting. And did we talk knitting! Mrs Katerina’s body was very frail, but her mind was razor sharp, her turn of phrase delightful. I learnt so much from her, and I don’t refer only to knitting though she was a fountain of knowledge. She was working on a sock when we arrived, the second pink sock to the one already completed, the yarn tensioned around her neck in the eastern manner.

Still nimble fingers
Working on the second sock

I was fascinated by her method of inserting the heel into the sock, what Elizabeth Zimmermann would call an ‘afterthought’, and she took great delight in explaining the technique to me, insisting on giving me the sock, in spite of my protestations. The incomparable Kyria Katerina, assured me she would simply knit a replacement for it.

Explaining how the heel would be put in

P1260315 [HDTV (1080)]
The sock finished and awaiting the heel
I have watched Greek, Turkish and Albanian knitters, some of whom employ this method. Mrs Katerina learnt to knit stockings as a very small girl, and could recollect no other way of working the heel, saying simply that’s how it was always done in her village.

P1260321 [HDTV (1080)]
Toe detail
 Knitting is a way of life to Mrs Katerina who could not hazard a guess at how many pairs of socks she had knitted over her lifetime. “Pola! Pola!” she happily exclaimed. “Many! Many!” were the socks she’d produced for herself, her family and her long-dead husband. A widow of many years she dressed only in black, and was determined, absolutely determined, that I accept a pair of her own socks so that I could study the work at my leisure. It was impossible to refuse, and I treasure her gifts.

P1260316 [HDTV (1080)]
Mrs Katerina’s basic black socks
But socks were not enough for the indomitable Kyria Katerina. She loved that I share her name, and wanted me to have something to remember her by, not that I could ever forget her. So her last piece of embroidery I was to have, for her eyesight was fading and knitting was not as taxing for her. Here it is – a beautiful piece of work in counted thread embroidery – shown by Maria.

The embroidery

I love the painstaking work, marvel at her patience, delight in the few, the very, very few missed stitches which speak so eloquently of the hand worked item. I’ve thought of framing it, but maybe I’ll turn it into a pillow.

Meeting this good lady and her devoted daughter was an experience I can never forget. The warmth and affection extended to us, complete strangers, remains with us still.

Mrs Katerina, then living in Delphi, is my personal Delphic Oracle for she assured me that whatever was to happen in my life my knitting would always bring me joy.



Turkey’s larger towns and cities have many sophisticated stores and boutiques where the shopper, whether a local resident or tourist, is presented with an abundance of the goods to be found in such surroundings. Designer clothing, sumptuous rugs, antiques. Tantalizing temptation!


P1150237 [HDTV (1080)] [1024x768]
Street market in Izmir
But for me, the street markets and covered bazaars do it every time. They are so enticing, full of weird and wonderful objects, the everyday and the exotic, paper tissues and cloth of tissue, jeans and jewellery.

P1150137 [HDTV (1080)] [1024x768]
Always busy; always exciting
The buyers and sellers alike are fascinating; visitors are from far and wide; dozens of languages are heard, mingling with the sounds of bells and music. Tiny shops selling sweet-smelling spices nestle between the textures and vibrant colours of handwoven carpets, rugs and other handworked textiles in adjoining enterprises.

P1150214 [HDTV (1080)] [1024x768]
Snack, anyone?
It’s knitting that invariably catches my eye. Anything knitting related, be it the handknitted socks which pop up here and there in various shops and stalls, or knitting yarn. Although stores here do a brisk trade in clothing of varied quality, much of it imported from countries like China and Taiwan, handknitting is still popular, and domestically produced knitting yarn is widely available.

You will often find a small selection of basic yarns in the typical haberdashery business. These little shops are bursting with threads, buttons, zippers, needles of all types, sewing tools and gadgets, notions and trims – an amazing selection of items for those of us inclined towards the needle arts.

P1150144 [HDTV (1080)] [1024x768]
Worth a look
Displayed on shelves reaching to the ceiling and expertly retrieved for your inspection by the owner or assistants, tucked under the counter, stored in the back or even fetched for you by some runner urgently dispatched to a fellow dealer, the goodies are many and varied.

P1150209 [HDTV (1080)] [1024x768]

P1150211 [HDTV (1080)] [1024x768]

P1150212 [HDTV (1080)] [1024x768]
Spoilt for choice
Whilst we communicated only by gestures and much pointing on my part, the owner of this establishment was extremely courteous and helpful, even though my purchase was tiny. The hospitality however was huge, as we have often found it to be in Turkey, and sweet tea, always served in glasses, was immediately sent for.

P1150213 [HDTV (1080)] [1024x768]

Later in the day we came across a shop pretty much devoted to knitting – owned and run by two charming ladies who are either sisters, or mother and daughter. I couldn’t quite establish the relationship and as we were a little off the typical tourist part of this particular market, there was no helpful local to translate for me. No matter. We spoke the universal language of knitters and got along quite happily.

P1150221 [HDTV (1080)] [1024x768]
Examining a pair of traditionally knitted socks
As you see in these photographs, the knitters were very excited about a recently published magazine pattern they were working on. They were most anxious to show me the baby jacket, knitted from the top down, a technique which we in America are familiar with, but one completely new to them.

P1150227 [HDTV (1080)] [1024x768]

P1150234 [HDTV (1080)] [1024x768]

What was so touching, and so typical of the generosity of knitters, was their determination that I too should learn this method and all of its advantages, in spite of the fact that we had not one word of common language among us. I not only hadn’t the heart to tell them I have made several items this way, but I quite literally couldn’t.

P1150230 [HDTV (1080)] [1024x768]

P1150231 [HDTV (1080)] [1024x768]

P1150232 [HDTV (1080)] [1024x768]

P1150233 [HDTV (1080)] [1024x768]

Here are the ladies explaining the pattern to me, and going to enormous trouble to write down some pointers, bless them. In Turkish yet! They were so enthused about the process, and so eager for me to benefit from it also. We had a grand old time, babbling away, trying to find words in my tiny pocket dictionary, which was not exactly encyclopaedic with regard to knitting terms.

P1150229 [HDTV (1080)] [1024x768]
When nods and smiles aren’t quite enough
I will never forget them, how genuine and cheerful they were, their generosity in sharing. They spoke for knitters everywhere.

P1150223 [HDTV (1080)] [1024x768]




Kate Davies, whose writing is always most interesting and informative, has sparked some lively debate with her blog posts of September 21 and September 23. Her discussion makes mention of “women with multiple demands on their time” and reminded me of a particular chore which women of previous generations were expected to include in their daily household tasks. The maintaining of clothing and domestic linens in good condition, pretty much a never-ending task, required various forms of mending, among which the darning of holes played a large part. Along with the iron (my blog post Iron Age) a household would have its darner. This would be dropped into the sock, or held at the back of the damaged piece of fabric to highlight the hole and provide a backing for the repair work. My mother’s olive wood darning egg fascinated me as a child, though to be honest I do not recall her ever using it, and is no doubt the reason I collect darners.

The variety of darners is endless. This humble tool was made in many societies, in all manner of materials, both for local use and as souvenir items, often reflecting some aspect of the country or region of manufacture.  Some were designed so that the tops unscrewed, allowing needles to be stored in the handles.

P1220983A [1024x768]
Needles Inside
They could be egg shaped; the most common appear to be eggs-on-a-stick.  Plain wood was usual; indigenous woods might used on souvenir darners; painting in colours or designs made the darner more cheerful, perhaps relieving some of the tedium of the task, or at least catching the eye of the buyer. Mushroom shapes were always popular  and lent themselves to decorative painting whilst there’s a touch of whimsy in these darners, rather reminiscent as they are of a foot.

P1220994A [1024x768]
Egg-on-a-stick 1

P1230005A [1024x768]
Egg-on-a-stick 2
P1230008A [1024x768]
Egg-on-a-stick 3

P1220986A [1024x768]
Mushroom 1
P1220992A [1024x768]
Mushroom 2
P1230010A [1024x768]

Glove darners were tiny, and essential if a lady was to maintain her gloves in good condition, while much larger darners would have been used in the repair of trousers and jackets.

P1220976A [1024x768]
P1220981A [1024x768]
Trousers and Jackets
This patented gadget was intended for the repair of stockings; the handle unscrews to reveal a tiny latchhook. By contrast, an advert in The Modern Priscilla of January 1911 urges those who “want to quit darning” to purchase their stockings instead, which, mind you, were guaranteed only for four months. After that, I suppose you either bought new ones or reverted to the hated task!

P1230016A [1024x768]
P1230030A [1024x768] P1230029A [1024x768]























I found this bundle of handknitting samples in a fleamarket in Texas. All are made of cotton; some of them have name labels attached. Are they from a school? And if so, during what year of schooling were the girls (for it most certainly would have been girls) expected to learn these skills? The work is well done, in fine gauge, and must have been quite time-consuming. There are samplers of beautifully worked stitch patterns, while four of the swatches show examples of darning. All necessary skills for a young woman back in the day.

P1230024A [1024x768]

P1230022A [1024x768]


So important were needlework skills that cheerful scenes of domestic bliss, and particularly mother/daughter learning activities were frequently depicted on the packaging though I have my doubts as to the eagerness on the part of daughters. Sons of course were spared!

P1230015A [1024x768]
The foreword to The Sunlight Book of Knitting and Crocheting published in Chicago in 1912, trills:

“A woman is never quite so captivating and utterly feminine as when her lap is filled with a fleecy cloud of yarn, and from beneath her darting needles falls away some soft, pretty knitted affair.”

P1230036A [1024x768]

Several years ago I was discussing knitting with an elderly village woman, now long gone to her rest.  She rummaged about in a chest and produced this perfectly round sea-washed pebble, which she gave me. “What use have I for it now? I don’t want to remember those days.” She’d always kept an eye out for suitable stones, she told me, to use for darning her late husband’s socks. He’d been a shepherd, constantly wearing holes into the many socks she’d knitted him. She made it quite clear that sock knitting was a chore: preparing the fleece, spinning the yarn on her drop spindle, knitting the socks, and then the never-ending darning. All done mostly by lamp and candlelight, and after the hard work of the day. Knitting was not for her the pleasure it is for so many of us today.

P1230021A [1024x768]

In addition to her mending, the housewife of yesteryear frequently had to “make do and mend”. Every scrap of fabric and clothing was precious, particularly during and after the two Great Wars of the 20th Century. Women’s magazines carried regular articles on ways to remake clothes, such as cutting a man’s shirt down into baby clothes, or unravelling a damaged sweater in order to salvage the yarn for another project.

P1230037A [1024x768]

Many of us repurpose fabrics today, though for the most part more from a sense of using a wonderful textile, or having something unique, such as this bag made from a thriftstore vest, which in turn was sewn from patches of ethnic Indonesian cloth.

P1230045A [1024x768]

My darners are no longer used, but what stories they could tell!