Traditional weaving & embroidery in Athens

Guests often ask me “Where can I find something special to buy as a souvenir from Greece?”

I get asked this a lot, and I love this question because anyone who has visited Athens (or seen photos of the historic center) knows that while the Plaka is chock full of souvenir shops, the asker is looking for something unique.

Something one of a kind.  Something handmade.

Recently when Basil noticed some beautiful embroideries and rugs in the window of a shop on Stadiou street we decided to take a peak inside. And while the windows tempted us with beautiful textiles, we were even more pleased to learn that we’d stumbled on something really special.

It turns out that the little storefront tucked away in a cul de sac off of one of downtown Athens’ busiest streets, is actually the retail outlet for the Society for the Education of Young Women. This store sells one of a kind, hand made arts and crafts, just a stone’s throw from Syntagma Square at Kolokotroni 3, in the stoa.

The society was established in 1872 and has been in operation ever since. The purpose of the Society is to promote traditional embroidery and weavings in order to maintain the culture, the traditional craft, and to support the thirty women who create the items on display and for sale in the shop on the ground floor at the opposite side of the Stoa.

Here you can find copies of embroidery that is exhibited at the Benaki museum. Weavings whose orgins are lost in history. Tapestries that are as unique, as they are modern but draw on the Greek past. (Tales of weaving and embroidary go way back for the Greeks: Penelope, ever hopeful that her beloved would return, kept her suitors away by weaving her wedding veil by day and undoing it at night until Odyseas came back from the Trojan war.

The Society and shop are worth a visit for a chance to see traditional Greek handwork at the source, and they offer a nice selection of packable special souvenirs to bring home as a memory of your travels in Greece.

Katya, the very friendly woman who seems to always be in the shop, speaks excellent English and is very happy to tell you about the pieces, as well as directing you (or escorting you) across the way to the workshop where these fabulous creations are made.  Be forewarned though, the work you’ll see in the shop and being created in the Society is of a different quality (and thus price point) than the mass produced textiles you’ll find in many of the shops along the charming streets of the Plaka and is priced accordingly.

The shop is open daily except Sunday, but Katya is off on Thursdays.