Crete is a rural society and most handicraft is derived from the making of traditional objects for everyday use: leather boots, woven rucksacks, simple woven carpets, knives, glazed ceramic and earthenware pots and jars. Most of these objects have stopped being much in demand and are now mass-produced for souvenir stores. This doesn't mean that they are bad or expensive but you will have to search carefully to find quality items. The city of Chania is without doubt the best place for handicraft shopping in the whole of Crete.
Knives were very important items for the Cretans, not only to use but also to display as status symbols and show your ability to defend yourself. There are several traditional knives shops left in Chania, some surprisingly not yet discovered by mainstream tourism. A few of these shops are located on Sifaka Street, along the Byzantine fortication of the Old Town.
Chania has long been famous for its leather handicrafts, mainly its tough traditional
Cretan boots. The shoemaker street Skridlof, off Halidon Street has now grown
into a tourist leather bazaar and its visit has become a must on organized
tours of Chania. The quality of the work on offer has of course declined but
it may be said in fairness that you can still find good quality work at good
prices (lots of competition!) and even some real bargains around the end of
the tourist season.
It is still possible to have boots made-to-measure but not during the tourist season as they are far too busy producing the standard stuff: sandals, belts, leather bags etc. If you can find a shoemaker willing to make you a pair of boots expect to have to wait at least a week for the work to be done.
Apart from the stalls some more upmarket leather shops have also opened in the "Leather lane" as well as elsewhere, and you can find some good bags, belts and other leather items at very keen prices.
There are only two villages left in Crete where the traditional earthenware "pithoi" are made. These enormous food storage jars have been made since Minoan times. Due to the dwindling demand for such items most potters started producing ceramic items for everyday use and are now forced to work almost exclusively for the tourist industry. You will find some good items, with the shiny dark blue glaze of Cretan ceramics. The glaze should be hard enough not to scratch under the blade of a knife. You will also find a lot of kitsch.
This type of work is more common in Central Crete but there are a few good shops in the Topanas area of the old town of Chania where you can find good quality items.
Both Rethymnon and Chania have a multitude of jewellery shops and the intense competition keeps the prices fairly low. A lot of it is mass-produced (in Greece and abroad) but there are also a few shops with quality handmade or hand-picked items.