By Dora Ohrenstein

I’m so excited! I’ll be going on a great travel adventure this summer. It began as an idea for researching the origins of crochet. It’s often speculated that it all began in the Mediterranean world, and Turkey seemed like a key region. I was aware of their oya tradition, and knew crochet was sometimes used for making oya. Istanbul is a fabulous destination I’d never seen, and became my first point of focus.

When I learned I could get a frequent flyer ticket arriving and departing from different cities, I thought, what an opportunity! Where else should I go to do my research? We know so little about crochet that isn’t from the US or Western Europe, yet it’s heavily practiced throughout Eastern Europe. Could one unearth the secret of the origins of Bosnian crochet?

Of course, the Balkans have a rich history, most recently a very tragic one. The Bosnian connection led me to Sarajevo. In the Lonely Planet travel guide to Eastern Europe I found mention of a shop there specializing in Bosnian handicrafts. I wrote to them about crochet, and will be visiting them, and hopefully hooking up with some Bosnian and Croatian crocheters. In fact, I really wanted to go to Croatia, which is gorgeous and has places like Pag, a famous lace-making island, but prices there were beyond my budget.

So I will start in Sarajevo and then head south, to make my way to Istanbul, where I’ll end the trip. My reading list has included Devia Murphy’s “Through the Embers of Chaos”, by an erudite journalist who rode her bike though the region; a grumpy but interesting book by Robert Carver called “The Accursed Mountains: Journeys in Albania; “Mehmet My Hawk,” a novel by Yasar Kemal that presents a fascinating portrait of feudal life in Turkey, and right now I’m reading Ivo Andric’s The Bridge on the Drina, another marvelous historical novel.

I became increasingly gripped with the idea of visiting Albania, a place that’s really wild. But too wild maybe? As I read more, it seemed like a very intriguing place to see at this point in time, as it struggles to emerge from total isolation, then bankruptcy, and now awakens to the concept of becoming a tourist destination. With its extensive Adriatic coastline, dramatic mountain ranges, and ancient sites, it’s an obvious candidate. But not yet: there are few hotels, no railroads, no published bus schedules, it’s altogether not ready for prime time. After much investigation, I’m sure it’s possible and safe to make one’s way around there, just not very quickly. One thing that really excites me is that you can visit world class Roman ruins like Butrint that have not yet been “touristized” with signage and the like. Or so I read. Beautiful old towns, and the evidence everywhere of the complex and often tragic history of the country, all this entices me.

I’d never heard of Albanian crochet, but would assume that needle arts, embroidery, knitting, rug-making, would all be known there. They have shepherds and flocks there, and a rare breed of sheep of particularly ancient origin. After much internet sleuthing I established contact with a young American in the Peace Corps, living in Albania, who is trying to help local women create a business based on needle arts and wool production. She has gotten to know the owner of a defunct communist era wool factory which had dilapidated to laughable conditions. Oh my, would I love to help a cause like that with an in-depth piece in Crochet insider — or somewhere bigger!

So my itinerary has emerged to this point: Two or three days in Sarajevo, then on to some historic spots nearby that can’t be missed: Mostar, Dubrovnik, Kotor. Then into Albania for 5 or 6 days, then flying from Tirana, Albania’s capital, to Istanbul.

I’m still planning the Turkey part of the trip, trying to figure out where else I should go besides Istanbul. There are too many choices and I wonder if I will still have energy at that point?

I plan to post frequently here on CI during my trip, so please follow along and write your comments and suggestions!

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

Butrint ruins in Albania

Gjirokaster in Albania


Sarajevo in 1996


Satellite photo of Adriatic Sea