The Knitting Technique of Karya
There is a special knitting technique that is called “Karsaniki Velonia” and got its name from the beautiful mountain village of Karya, located at the centre of the island.
The technique was conceived, realised and developed into a masterful art by Maria, aka “Koutsohero” (Lame-handed). This was a knick name given to Maria Stavraka, who was born in a farmers’ family of Karya around 1860, because of her disability.
Like all the girls of that time, Maria helped her parents in the fields. But she was a rather lively child and that was the cause of her losing her right hand when she was very young. She fell off a tree during playtime. The limp was mutilated from the elbow down. A little later, a second accident caused disability on the left hand, too. Therefore she was named “Limp-handed” due to her disability on both hands.
Of course she stopped working on the fields and was isolated at home. There, in an effort to overcome her disability and be creative, she tried knitting. She only used her left (partially handicapped) hand but, after many tries, she developed a way to stabilise the fabric by pinching it down onto her dress and holding it between her legs. She knitted using her left hand. Her efforts were persistent and she managed not only to knit but also to invent, after many hours of trying, a new kind of knitting called “kafassovelonia”.
The whole neighbourhood was excited with the new technique and its aesthetic result. Maria was also excited and started enriching the technique, developing it into a new knitting craft. Her compositions pictured scenes and objects from the rich nature of her village. Among the patterns that she created were daisies, leaves, small flowers, small wheels and several combinations of these. In the process she adopted more patterns, too. These combinations became complex images.
The new art, “the knitting of Karya”, surpassed the limits of the neighbourhood and spread throughout the village. It gave Maria the confidence and the thrush necessary to continue and perfect this kind of laborious work with beautiful results.
Zoe Valaoriti, daughter-in-law of the national poet Aristotelis Valaoritis, was informed about that art and visited Maria at her home. She was excited by her masterpieces. She gave the news to then Queen Sofia who was also impressed. With the queen’s support, the first School of Knitting was founded in Karya in 1912.
The main teacher was Maria herself. The school was housed at the estate of the Nastos family, near the central square of the village. That building was, up to 1854, the vacation house of the English Commissioner of the island of Lefkada.
Maria taught with great enthusiasm and all the village’s girls knitted. Many masterpieces were created and they were usually part of the girls’ dowry.
Tablecloths, bed sheets, towels, doilies, linen, pillowcases and other pieces of unique beauty were put in trunks and shipped to the Palace as the Queen’s dowry.
This kind of knitting was always enriched by the individual inspiration of each knitter.
Maria Stavraka even persuaded a man to participate in the knitting creation. The man, named Argyris, was also handicapped since the 1912 war. Argyris was influenced by Maria’s spirit and worked on the technique with great zest and gusto. Some of his patterns were on the list of the most beautiful and widespread patterns of the knitting technique of Karya. He must have been one of the few male knitters in Greece, or even in the world. Maria died in 1948.
The knitting technique of Karya became famous amongst the European Royalty. There were requests from all over Europe. The Spanish Palace, in particular, acquired hundreds of craftworks.
Today there not many knitters left. Nevertheless, these few ones labour passionately to complete each piece of work. Slowly but steadily, this kind of craft becomes more and more rare. The craftworks are of particular aesthetic and historical value.
Knife Making – The Knives of Poros
The story of the Lefkadian knives started in the years of the Venetian Rule (1684-1789). When the Venetians took over the island from the Turks, in order to make it productive and financially efficient, they founded several guilds. There were guilds for smiths, carpenters, coopers etc. There was also a knife makers’ guild.
These knife makers, lead by the family of Katopodis from Poros at the south eastern part of Lefkada, managed to develop this craft so much that the Lefkadian knives were considered among the best of the world. It was not by chance that the knives of Poros are still found in the most famous European museums of knife making, in France and in Italy.
The Lefkadian knives became famous because of their durability, flexibility, strength, ornamentation but also the lyrics that were carved on them. The lyrics used to praise the bravery of the holder. The technique of soaking the steel into oil during the forging process was the secret of the knives’ durability. This is why, when a knife was delivered to a buyer, it should pass a test by cutting through a nail. This is also why the infamous groups of henchmen and criminals all over Greece, up to the 1960s, asked for knives from Lefkada, and particularly from Poros, especially in the more recent years.
Originally the knives were meant to be used in war, therefore they should be strong, but then there were also knives made for other uses, e.g. by butchers. The knife makers made swords, too. It is said that the sword of king Otto (the first king of modern Greece) was ordered in Lefkada in 1821. Many commanders of rebel groups during the Occupation and the Civil War were equipped with a Lefkadian knife.
The best knife maker of Greece, as his disciple Panagiotis Pigalos from Aetoloakarnania claimed, was Panos Katopodis, aka “Kotsinos”, from Poros of Lefkada. His knives were unique and priceless masterpieces.
One of the last knife makers left in Lefkada was Spyros Argyros, aka “Tsiprakis”, from the village of Agios Ilias, a mountainous village of the island.
Then, Telis Vlahos, aka “Zloumis”, from Karya, when he retired and settled permanently in Lefkada, began to manufacture knives. He had been taught the craft when he was a young child in Karya by the master Stavros Katopodis.
In December 2010, there was a seminar about knife making instructed by Telis Vlahos. The results were very encouraging since many of the participants managed to make knives and some still keep making them.
In the summer of 2014 there was an Exhibition of Knives of Lefkada (Poros) held at the Art Hall “Theodoros Stamos”. The exhibition hosted tens of unique knives handmade by four students of Telis Vlahos, namely Dionysios Lazaris, Spyrogiannis Rompotis, Filippos Politis and Stathis D. Halkiopoulos.
That was a clear proof that this kind of tradition of the island is still alive through capable disciples.