I’ll talk about what inspired the embroiderers of Castelo Branco, one of the most famous and rich Portuguese regional embroideries.
|Embroidered colcha, image from Castelo Branco Municipality|
At that time this type of embroidery was known as “loose embroidery”, bordado frouxo, owing its name to the type of stitches used, and only later it begun being known as Castelo Branco embroidery.
|Working on linen with silk, photo from Castelo Branco Minicipality|
The inspiration and the access to the techniques were there and the necessary materials, too…
There are references to linen embroidery with silk in other places but maybe the tradition of flax cultivation in the region of Castelo Branco, the fact that mulberry grew very well, allowing the creation of large scale silkworm silk, created the special conditions unique to the development of this embroidery art.
With oriental inspiration and the use of flax and silk, the art of embroidering colchas was very common in this region through the 18th century. Although this kind of work was reported since the 17th century it’s difficult to rigorously define when and how this art begun. But we can tell some curiosities about the original use of colchas…
|Piece of embroidery being worked on, photo from Castelo Branco Minicipality|
The Castelo Branco needlewomen prepared the thread themselves, breeding silkworms and spinning and dyeing the thread with which they embroidered the bridal colchas. The girls at the age of marriage decorated their beds with profusely and colorfully embroidered colchas placed near the window overlooking the street where the boy could see them and possibly be impressed and enamored. The colcha was used in the marriage night and some authors say that afterward it was kept out of use and saved for very special occasions.
Similar to what happened in Nisa, there was a small locality in this region where the bride and groom’s home was opened on the eve of the wedding so that everyone could visit it. It usually ended in a pilgrimage to 'go see the bed' (most faithful possible to the Portuguese words…).
The idea of the colcha only being used in festivities is, however, contradicted by those who argue that they were used in everyday life, which would justify the poor condition in which many were found.
After this period, and without any known reason, in the 19th century there was a decline in this art… And linen and silk colchas were forgotten.
Until the day when a treasure was discovered in a chest…