April 26, 2012

My stitches have Portuguese soul

Olá! Last week I introduced you to Portugal and to our lovely stitches. Today I invite you to come and get to know my own “pontos*”. I’ll try to show why do I say they have a Portuguese soul, “alma Portuguesa”.

When I started to create my embroidery kits I was sure that would not suffer from lack of inspiration if I kept myself true to our traditions. And by traditions I don’t meant to narrow my inspiration to embroidery only… We have so many other inspiring features in our culture. Other crafts like pottery, tilling, basketry, jewelry, instruments making, lace work, weaving… Many genuine materials like cork, marble, linen and wool. And I could go on… And I will one of these days.

My first pattern was this Portuguese heart inspired by traditional Viana embroidery where the red and blue are the most usual colors and hearts a very common motif. So I reinvented it to make it easier for beginners… Some time after, I began embroidering the Portuguese heart using unlikely fabrics and floss colors. Do you think I’ve betrayed tradition? Even if I did it I kept myself true to Portuguese soul, and trust me, it is a very colourful one

Traditional Viana embroidery, photo by Virgína Otten
Portuguese heart - Coração de Viana
Portuguese heart pattern by agulha não pica 

Creating embroidery kits for children was a big challenge… We all know that children love animals. It did not take me long to remember the most famous Portuguese animal: the rooster of Barcelos. Considered by many as our national symbol, I assure you that no visitor leaves our country without knowing it. The rooster that crowed after being dead is stamped on our fabrics, on old and new cloth, on modern accessories, on our walls and it is always present in our humour. Often bought as a souvenir, the ceramic painted rooster is not a good luck gift as many claim, but I confess I felt lucky with this pattern choice. Children can get to know our culture better and parents feel like they have a story to tell while children learn their first stitches. So here you have stitches inspired by ceramic and oral tradition… Do you agree this is an unexpected source of embroidery inspiration?

O Galo de Barcelos
Ceramic roosters of Barcelos, photo by Afton Halloran
Galo de Barcelos em serapilheira - Rooster of Barcelos in burlap
Burlap embroidery kit by agulha não pica

Last but not the least… When choosing the supplies for my kits I always have a strict principle: “Portuguese first”. It makes my work harder but I’m often surprised by my discoveries as happened with fantastic cotton floss, great wool yarn and very beautiful fabrics (I’ll talk about them in another post). Otherwise I would have to replace these products by foreign brands. Caught up in these findings I heard about burel, a 100% wool Portuguese fabric resembling felt, but more rustic. Burel, unlike felt, is a woven fabric and that makes it more resistant. It was used by mountain people and shepherds in capuchas, wool hoods that protected them from the cold. Recently I began working with burel to create “capuchas” for books and mugs. In other words, book covers and mug cozies kits. A piece of advice: embroidering on burel soon becomes an addiction…

Vilarinho-seco (128)
Capucha made of burel, photo by frproart
capucha para livros - burel book cover
Book cover kit made of burel, by agulha não pica

I hope my words showed you that I walk the talk when I say that my stitches have Portuguese soul…

Once again you’ve learned some Portuguese words… “Pontos” means stitches… “Alma portuguesa” means Portuguese soul… So you’ll have “pontos com alma portuguesa” for “stitches with Portuguese soul”…


  1. Is burel like broadcloth/Loden? It sounds like it, but I can't find a proper translation :-/

  2. Adorei, lindos! :)

  3. That is beautiful.  I do like your heart and rooster!  Is it difficult to stitch on burel?  I was stitching on fleece (man-made) last night and it was very hard to get my needle through some of the seams (I was stitching on a stuffed toy).  I love stitching on wool felt - the feel is lovely.  Thank you for sharing your "alma portuguesa" with us!!

  4. Well done Gabi! ;)

    Nicole: I think is more loden than broadcloth;
    Loden like "burel" is a thick waterproof fabric though I'm not sure it is made of wool like "burel"
    Broadcloth is reported as high quality woolen or silk cloth. Burel is never made of silk and never a luxurious cloth. So far my dictionaries told me :)

  5. Olá Gabi  I enjoyed looking at your blog I work with felt a lot of the time but have never used felt for embroidery so today I am going to give it a go.  I have a granddaughter who wants her Nanna to teach her to sew so this may be the way to go.  I also only use fine embroidery thread and I notice that you use a much thicker thread so I am going to have a go at using a different thread.  Thanks for the new ideas.  Look forward to reading your blog next Thursday.

  6. Nicole: adding to
    meri comment... It's difficult... So many words that can't be translated. I don't know if there is another fabric like burel...  But there must be... 

    Burel is a fabric made of woven felted wool. I think that both
    broadcloth and loden are wool cloths and in Portugal we would call them
    “fazendas” -  wool woven fabrics.

    As you know wool felt
    is a dense non-woven fabric obtained by the felting process. Burel is
    woven and felted (it’s not the proper word…). Broadcloth and loden are woven
    fabrics but not felted. Wool felt is felted but not woven :)

    The making
    process of burel begins with the wool being washed and spun before being woven.
    The wool fabric is then “pisoado”. A process similar to felting where the
    fabric is pounded and scalded. The fabric becomes more compact and resistant
    than a common wool cloth and waterproof. Following the link above on the word
    burel, and going down the page you’ll find an explanation of how the burel was “pisoado”
    many years ago… Beautiful…

    I love to work
    with burel. It is more rustic than felt but, like felt, you
    don't need to finish edges because they won't unravel. It’s Great!! One of
    these days I’ll make a post on burel and traditional embroidery on burel

  7. Good job, Gabi! I don't think you have betrayed tradition. Reinvention is the only way to keep tradition alive and well! I'm happy that my pictures came in handy :)

  8. Oriel: I use wool yarn with burel (like felt...). The only difficulty in felt (burel) embroidery is designing the pattern on the felt, especially if you're working with dark colors. Usually I use trancing paper with a pattern. I put it over the felt, embroidering paper and felt at the same time. At the end I remove the paper. 
    You must tell your granddaughter that the needle doesn't prick when used with the head and the heart :))

  9. Thank you for your words... I think stitching on wool felt is similar to stitching on burel but Burel is more rustic. I love the feel of burel... It's very natural, you feel the texture of wool... It's almost like holding a small lamb :))
    Congratulations on your new Portuguese words!!!

  10. RaggletagglegypsygirlApril 26, 2012 at 9:24 PM

    Love the Portuguese colours and heart shape design, quite inspired......

  11. Loden (or maybe I'd better say Walkloden) is a woven wool cloth that is then fulled (felted) and may or may not be "brushed" in one direction. It's waterproof and warm...

  12. Oh Gabi, your posts make my heart--or perhaps my alma portuguesa--happy. I plan to order the burlap kit for my children but was wondering if you ever offer burel in your shop? I really enjoy embroidering on wool felt and would like to try burel, too.

  13. Dear Amy, thanks for your kind words :) 
    Could you write me to agulhanaopicagmail .com ?
    It's easier... Thanks