As part of the original Around the World in 80 Skeins tour, stop 21 was to visit Maria Zilakou, a fiber arts designer from Piraeus, Greece.
Hi, Maria! Thanks so much for joining the tour. Let’s start off with where are you from?
I was born, raised and still live in Piraeus, Greece. I’ve been away only for short periods of time, studying abroad (namely in the UK and Spain), so I can’t say I miss my place of origin, but I certainly miss my favourite city in the world, which is Madrid, Spain. I’ve been there 3 times and enjoyed every moment, if I had a choice, this is where I’d want to live.
What’s the best thing about where you live?
The answer is obvious: the sea. Piraeus is surrounded by the sea, it’s so natural and relaxing to go for a walk by the sea. So the yacht marina is certainly the first place to visit. One can have a cup of coffee and watch the boats sailing and the seagulls flying after them.
How did you get started knitting/crocheting? And how did it turn into designing?
I‘d been cross-stitching and doing quite a bit of embroidery ever since I was 7 years old. When I was 12, I was taught knitting and crocheting at school. That was it. I’ve been designing and knitting my own outfits since I was in my twenties, but never got to write down my own patterns, until 2012, when my brother passed away at 47 and all that grief turned into knitting and crocheting for hours. I used to wake up at 5 in the morning and work on my project till it was time for the rest of the family to wake. I thought I’d write down my own patterns and submit them for testing in Ravelry (The Testing Pool, as well as my own group). I guess one thing led to the other.
I’m so sorry to hear about your brother. I learned how to knit as a way to cope with my dad’s death, so I completely understand how cathartic is can be. How does where you live influence your designs?
Although it may not seem obvious, being Greek does influence my work a lot. Inspiration for my first pattern Skoutari comes from the place we spent our summer vacations as a family. Sikinos is named after my favourite Greek island and I am currently working on a series of designs inspired by traditional Greek embroidery motifs.
How did you get into translating knitting books?
I have a BA in English Language and Literature and translation has always been part of my job. I’ve translated all kinds of books, it was only natural that I would translate knitting patterns. Some of the fellow designers in Rav trusted me to do that and then, during the 2013 Xeirotexnika Exhibition (the biggest Crafts & DIY event in Greece) I was introduced to the publisher that represents Quarto books in Greece. I was really thrilled at the prospect, since there weren’t any Greek language quality books on knitting and crochet available up to now. I’m happy to say that Greek knitters and crocheters really appreciate this.
Where is your favorite place to design?
Everywhere? Well, when at home, there is my favourite armchair in our living room, but I also had great time designing and knitting on the hotel veranda during our summer holidays.
What do you drink while your work?
A nice cup of Earl Grey during the winter and peach-flavoured iced tea during the summer! Nothing exotic, I guess. I also have to have some audiobook on, it really helps me concentrate, as you may imagine.
What is your design process like? Do you plan it all out before you pick up your needles/hook, or do you let the yarn show you where to go?
Both, but in a certain order: yarn offers inspiration, the colours, the texture, I “visualize” what I want to make and then sit down and plan everything before I take up my needles/hook. Thus, I do the first pattern testing right away.
Do you have a favorite local yarn store?
Yes, and I teach advanced knitting techniques there sometimes. It’s Sotiriou-Xeirotexnia, in the centre of Piraeus. I also have a favourite yarn “person”, Angelika Batsis, a fiber artist based on Etsy, who provides me with really special yarn and, when I’m in Athens, I always visit Sakalak shop, a wonderful yarn boutique, where one can find the best quality international yarn brands.
Who are your favorite designers and why?
Well, first and foremost Elizabeth Zimmermann: I am grateful for everything she taught us. Then, Kaffe Fasset for his exploding colours, Stephen West for his way of mastering both the colour and the line in a garment, Emma Fassio for the peace and harmony in her work, Lily Go for her sense of beautiful lace.
Is there a big knitting/crochet culture in Greece?
Crochet is more common in Greece, it is part of our tradition. Filet crochet is a “must” in the Aegean islands. Greece is a warm place even during the winter, therefore one cannot say that knitting is part of our culture. Excellent quality cotton thread was traditionally used for crocheting heirloom lace and every bride would include several yards of crocheted lace borders as part of her trousseau in the past.
Do you have a favorite design in your portfolio that was inspired by your culture or environment?
Well, they are all so very dear to my heart, that I decided to create one especially for this project: Aouda, a versatile scarf/shawl, named after the Indian princess that Phileas Fogg saved and later got married to.
That is so cool! Thank you so much for creating such a beautiful design to go along with the tour and for sharing your inspirations with us!