Crete can boast, amongst other things, of a tradition rich in handicrafts and home-based manufacture: in areas such as pottery, wood-carving, weaving, embroidery, metalwork and jewellery-making.
In this artistic tradition lives on the originality and ingenuity bequeathed not only by the Minoans but by all the subsequent cultural influences down the centuries.
All these craft and cottage skills developed strongly in those periods when isolation and socio-historical imperatives demanded self-sufficiency from the Cretans.
Today those social conditions have gone, but the artistic activity continues. Thus, it is not difficult for the visitor to discover traditional products of this sort with ancient roots: contemporary workshops and folk museums dot the countryside.
The craft of pot-making in Crete has a continuous history for around eight millennia. Objects of clay dating to the Neolithic period (starting c. 6000 BC) are on display in many museums. In the wake of this great ceramic record, the modern potters create and decorate objects of great value, following in the footsteps of their ancestors.
In the past, these (musical instruments) were made by the musicians themselves. The flute or recorder (chabiola) was made from reeds, the bagpipes (askomandoura) from the skin of a whole goat, the lyra from mulberry wood, maple or walnut. The bow of the lyra was from the loquat tree (despola or mousmoula), its strings from a horse’s tail and it was hung about with small bells (the so-called falcon-bells).
This craft, with a lengthy history that came to the fore in the Byzantine period, produces quality items mostly in the realm of carved furniture and practical utilitarian objects, as well as some of ecclesiastical purpose. Carved works are dominated by geometric-inspired decorative schemes and motifs enriched with themes taken from the plant and animal kingdoms.
In the past, and to a degree even today, the working of raw materials was done by the weavers themselves, who processed all the products they used in the weaving process. In the Minoan era, the manufacture of purple dyes from sea shells was already known, as well as other colours from such as the kerma insect (prinokouki) that feeds on the leaves of various oaks and cedar.