Albanian slippers or outer socks

before 1912

British Museum

British Museum

A pair of slippers or outer socks, hand knitted with purple/black handspun wool. A plain lower front and back, with pointed toe and heel, worked in stocking stitch. The instep has a large composite couched motif, with three points: couched gold-coloured metal-wrapped thread on a black wool woven ground, blue wool fabric, and couched gold-coloured plaiting. The top of each sock edged with commercial black wool braiding. The vertical opening is secured with a pink domed glass button.

Edith Durham records receiving these slippers in 1912 as a gift from Gruda tribesmen in the mountains of north Albania, 'in return for aid to burnt-out villages' during the First Balkan War. Durham (1863-1944) travelled in then rough and then hardly visited Balkans from the early 1900s. She championed the cause of Albania and her vivid books, especially 'High Albania' (1909), remain standard texts today.
For information on Balkan footwear very similar to this pair see: Start, Laura E, The Durham Collection of Garments and Embroideries from Albania and Yugoslavia, 1977: 66 - 67, Fig. 9A. (Chapter XVI). They are described as outer socks from Gruda, W. Albania: both men and women of the mountain tribes wear two pairs of socks and a sandal, 'opanke' over them when out of doors (see Eu1914,0619.1); the inner socks are usually knitted in white wool, the outer pair embroidered or braided. According to M. E. Durham 'the two layers of sock are needed to protect the sole of the foot as the hide used in the sandals or 'opanke' is thin and pliant. On entering the house the opanke are removed and the decorative over-sock forms a slipper'. The Bankfield Museum has six pairs of oversocks, two with their inner socks still inside them.

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  • Title: Albanian slippers or outer socks
  • Date Created: before 1912
  • Location Created: Albania
  • Physical Dimensions: Length: 33 centimetres (each) Width: 16 centimetres (each)
  • Provenance: Given by Edith Durham
  • Copyright: © The Trustees of The British Museum
  • British Museum link: Eu1914,0619.3.a-b