The Royal Hellenic School of Needlework and Laces, Athens

The Royal Hellenic School of Needlework and Laces, Athens, was an industrial school set up in 1897 for the production of textiles, and especially that of embroidery.

The school originated in the Graeco-Turkish War of 1897, when hundreds of refugees fled from the fighting in northeastern Greece. Many came to Athens and after the war they stayed in the capital. In order to provide employment for women and girls, a group of Athenian ladies organised a committee and a building for the teaching and production of textiles (woven cloth and rugs), and embroidery and lace in particular. It was called a School, but the establishment was firmly based on commercial grounds. A girl was given free tuition and materials and after serving an apprenticeship to the School’s satisfaction she was then paid a salary for her work.

Shortly after the setting up of the School, Lady Olga Egerton (née Princess Lobanov-Rostovksi) took an interest in its activities. She was the wife of Sir Edwin Henry Egerton, the English Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Greece from 1892-1903. Lady Egerton, an accomplished embroideress, started to study antique embroideries and laces, Byzantine styles of work as well as making a tour of the Greek islands to learn about these traditional forms. She also commenced a series of designs to be made at the School and was shortly afterwards made the chairwoman of the School’s committee.

At first the School was housed in a private building, but it was decided that their own buildings were required and land was purchased on Michail Vada Street in order to build the desired premises. The School quickly became a popular venue for the fashionable elite, including the British royal family that visited the place in 1906. About 200 girls were employed at any one time by the School. The emphasis within the school was on cleanliness, manners, efficiency and the production of commercially acceptable designs. The English embroideress, Louise Pesel, for example, was at first a designer at the School and later became its director (1903-1907).

The embroideries produced at the School included embroidered batiste, cottons, linens and silks using designs from all over the (former) Greek and Byzantine world. In addition, members of the teaching staff would travel around fashionable European centres to find out which designs in general were selling and what were the future trends. The end products were sold in Athens, as well as London, Paris and New York. Given the aristocratic connections it is not surprising that the Greek royal family became patrons of the School, including the Queen, Crown Princess Hélène and Princess Alice, wife of Prince Andrew of Greece. [[Princess Alice was a great granddaughter of Queen Victoria and mother of Prince Philip of Britain.]]

In order to reduce their costs (especially by paying lower wages), other Schools were set up, among others in Affya, Aegina, Corinth, Koropl, Spetses, and Volo. Here hundreds of girls learnt the art of lace making and embroidery, including cutwork. Again their work was sold in fashionable urban centres in Europe and America. The School closed down during the First World War (1914-1918), but reopened again. Yet, in later years, also because of its close connections with the Greek royal family, it never resumed its former position and was eventually forced to close its doors.



Last modified on Saturday, 04 March 2017 19:51