May 3, 2012

Book review - Traditional Embroidery of Portugal

Olá! This week I bring a review of a very special "livro"... More than sixty years ago Anchor begun publishing a book series that came to have at least 837 numbers. The numeration is not easy to understand and I believe there were not 837 books!! But I do know that Clark & Co., Ltd. (at the time not yet merged with J. &  P. Coats) made the right choice regarding the first number!

Traditional Embroidery of Portugal - Anchor Embroidery Book nº 1
Cardboard slipcase, back cover and three design sheets, my photo
The publishing date seems to have been 1950, but I'm not sure as it is not printed... The name of the series was "Anchor Embroidery Book" and the first being published was "Traditional Embroidery of Portugal". Surprised?? You shouldn't be...
Now I'm becoming unbearably smug!!!

I bought it some weeks ago while I was doing the research for my first post and the moment I received it I decided to write on it.
There are more second hand copies, so run if you want to buy one!

It's a beautiful book that comes inside a cardboard slipcase with three design sheets. The cover illustrates the traditional embroidery of Castelo Branco and the pattern is exactly the same, although in different colors, as the one I showed on my first post. The back cover is wonderful, so colorfully showing many different Portuguese motifs. But color remains outside the book... Unfortunately it's a black and white book. That's why I decided to balance the lack of color... I've searched my drawers to find some embroidery pieces that could colorfully illustrate some of the embroidery types described in the book. I hope you like it...

Bordado da Madeira - Madeira Embroidery
Madeira embroidery - my photo 
The book author is Maria Clementina Carneiro de Moura, a renowned painter, that developed important literary and educational activities in textiles, teaching and publishing her works that became significant for the understanding of Portuguese textile handicrafts history and technique. She was also a political activist and always attentive to social problems that Portugal was facing at the time.

Castelo Branco Embroidery - book and design sheets
Castelo Branco embroidery - my photo
The ideia of this book was to show how traditional embroidery could be adapted to "modern times". In her words "The country from north to south was scoured to collect material which (... ) could be considered suitable for adaptation to modern needlework, which is cultivated by all Portuguese women to beautify their homes."

Viana do Castelo embroidery - tablecloth
Viana do Castelo embroidery - my photo
As far as I understand, valuable specimens were collected in order to inspire the design of new ones. The execution of the new pieces, while many times forced to give a simplified version of the original specimen, respected the style and the stitches of the old ones. As argued by the author: "they must be decorative, practical, simple and easy to execute".

Azores embroidery
Azores embroidery - my photo
The book goes through many traditional regional embroideries and for each one there is: a brief explanation of its main characteristics, sometimes a photo of  the original specimen collected, the new piece inspired by the old one and the instructions for its execution - material required and working instructions. All embroidery patterns are printed in the design sheets.

Viana do Castelo Embroidery - napkin-bag
Viana do Castelo Embroidery, my photo
Let me show you... Inspired by Viana do Castelo costumes a table cloth was designed and executed as shown in the black and white photo. The list of the material required, the working instructions and the drawings are provided.

This photo also shows an even "more modern" piece also inspired by the same motifs. It is a napkin-bag that came from my mother's drawers...

The regional traditional embroideries represented in the book are: Viana do Castelo, Azores, Castelo Branco,  Caldas da Raínha,  Guimarães, Tibaldinho,  Madeira and Nisa. Some important stitches are also illustrated: chain stitch embroidery, cross stitch embroidery, shaded embroidery, net embroidery and "dove's eye" embroidery.

Although they seem many, I assure you that some more are missing... And I'll try to review all them throughout this year...

I could not end this long post without highlighting the impressive "backstage" work involved in this book. We can find around twenty eight modern pieces reproduced and that´s why it is fully understandable the reason why the author expresses her deep gratitude to the embroideresses...

In addition to the word "livro" (book), and after such a big post, I have to teach you another Portuguese word that expresses my feeling in case you've reached here... Obrigada - thank you!


  1. Lovely and inspiring!  I have truly enjoyed learning about Portuguese embroidery.  Keep the posts coming!

  2. Obrigada!  Isn't it a shame that they did not have access to color photography for this book?  It is so difficult for me to imagine color on a black and white pattern.  Thank you for taking time to explain the book and add your own colorful work, as well.

  3. Really a treasure, Gabi!!! :)
    What is "dove's eys"??? Never heard about that stitch...

  4. Another enjoyable post Gabi, I really appreciate all the effort you have put into explaining the different Portuguese stitches.  I like the idea of the Napkin Bag.

  5. Thank you for such an interesting post, I am really enjoying learning about Portuguese embroidery.  My great-grandparents were Portuguese and I've always wanted to visit your beautiful country.  I look forward to your posts every Thursday.

  6. Obrigada! Hard to decide what I like better, the colorful, cheerful Castelo Branco sample or the understated but beautiful Azores sample. They are so different! But I like them both.

  7. Jennifer R. GojiraMay 3, 2012 at 8:31 PM

    This looks like an amazing book. Thank you so much for your wonderful post. 

  8. Lucky you finding this book! What a great way to introduce traditional Portuguese embroideries ... feeling very proud! x

  9. Liliput StoryTelling CraftsMay 4, 2012 at 5:31 AM

    Thank you Gabi for this review. I'm portuguese and i feel that it's such a blessing to have been raised in a country full of beauty and tradition. Our embroidery represents a living common place to all the aspects of our identity. Congratulations for your work!

  10. Gabi, thank you for the great article review. Tenho andado a procura de kits e desenhos online com "Portuguese Themes"  e gostei muito de ver o seu website e etsy store. Obrigado!

  11. thank you for the color photographs, they are quite stunning, though I admit, I most want to make a pretty white lace tablecloth as one of the pictures illustrates. I'll have to bookmark your blog so I can read all your other posts on embroidery. wonderful.

  12. I bet that we all portuguese modern women still have a piece of this embroidery at home :)
    I have a Viana do Castelo table cloth, and some from Azores as well.
    You explained our country famous stitches beautifully Gabi, I'm really proud that you're blogging here!

  13. Oh my gosh how beautiful is this! :-)   Love it!

  14.  Hi, I have a pocket just the same as yours in Viana do Castelo Embroidery photo. It belonged to my husband's grandmother. Beautiful work.

  15. Wows its looks great. You did a great job. 

  16. such a great article about traditional embroidery of portugal.its really successful work.

  17. nice work Regular sewing is
    the art of attaching or linking things using stitches made with a needle and
    thread.Regular sewing is one of the earliest of the textile arts.Sewing is
    the essential process actual a wide range of fabric artistry and crafts