Cretan Felted Shepherd’ Cloaks – Guest Post by Jill
This is a guest post by Jill about her recent trip to a local museum. Thanks Jill for this great post!
A recent visit to the excellent Cretan Ethnological museum in Vori, South Crete, gave me an unexpected surprise – a glimpse of a felting machine! This folk museum, in a tiny town in rural Crete has won many awards and has an interesting textiles section. I knew of the historical farmers’ woollen capes, but had not realized they were felted.
For hundreds of years, life for sheep and goat farmers in Crete remained almost unchanged. Indeed, many people still live in a relatively similar way now, albeit with 4 wheel drive trucks instead of donkeys for transportation.
During the winter, shepherds lived in their family’s village in the lowlands , with olive trees, a kitchen garden and often orange groves; moving their flock around this area to graze. In April-May the sheep were shorn then moved up into higher altitude pasturage, until November; the shepherds remained in the mountains during much of this time. Their most important garment was their felted woolen cloak.
It is a voluminous coat, heavy, water-resistant, with a large hood, and often below knee-length.
Cretan sheep are kept primarily for milk (much used for yogurt and cheese) and meat, the wool is a by-product. Coarse, it was used mostly for weaving heavy rugs, bags and blankets.
To make the cloaks the wool was usually washed, carded and woven at home by the women of the household and then was stamped by foot by the men for long periods in a water-filled wooden basin and support frame. OR by using a kind of felt machine, water powered, which had paddles to agitate the wool into felt.
I have read that each cloak took 4 kg of wool. Mostly white or brown (natural), some were dyed dark blue or black. Whilst the most basic are a simple tent shape, I was surprised that most do have sleeves. The cloak was used as bedding as well as worn outside.
The wool was also used as padding in donkey saddles. I loved the recycling element on this saddle.
The decoration is made of bottle tops from the local fizzy pop, called Gazoza. The museum’s displays are kept dark to avoid light damage to the artifacts, hence the poor quality photos.