October 4, 2012

Stitches from an island in the Atlantic

Olá! Continuing to travel through the roots of Portuguese traditional embroidery we have to leave mainland Portugal towards an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean.

Madeira archipelago, i took this pic from the net
Madeira and Porto Santo, from here
Madeira appears in a map for the first time in 1433. Some years before two Portuguese captains had discovered an island in the Atlantic where they anchored after a storm, they named it Porto Santo (Holly Harbor). One year later was the time for the arrival at Madeira, that means “wood” in English. 

So… About Madeira’s history we can say that the Portuguese have put this archipelago on the map, but no one doubts that these islands were already there… The same happens with the history of Madeira Embroidery. Many claim that its history begins in 1850 with Elisabeth Phelps, but that is not true… She just put Madeira Embroidery on the map… But it was already there...

Today I’ll talk about what inspired the first embroiderers, those living before 1850 and next week we’ll see what changed after that…

Linen Madeira Embroidery, photo from an antiques blog.
The history of Madeira embroidery began with the first settlers on the island. Soon after their discovery the islands received the first inhabitants and their first embroiderers, too. The captains that first arrived at Madeira brought their families to live with them on the island and many other noble families followed. Fulfiling the need for the decoration of household linens as well as of clothing, noblewomen embroidered in their homes and nuns embroidering in convents were also known for their handcrafted work.

Most of the women that first arrived came from the North of Portugal, and many specifically from Viana do Castelo region, bringing with them the ancient tradition of embroidery and great skills. This art soon spread to almost all women of the island, even to those living in remote rural areas of the interior.
Women embroidered for own enjoyment or as gifts for their relatives and friends. For the young woman, the tradition of the wedding trousseau was very often the reason for such patient dedication to needlework. Embroidery pieces were passed from generation to generation not only for their great sentimental value but also for the richness of the embroidery.

Organdy Madeira Embroidery, photo from an antiques blog.
Although following the tradition, we can say that Madeira Embroidery is more exuberant than other Portuguese regional embroideries maybe owing it to the natural exuberance of the island that surely inspired embroiderers.
Nature lends its movements to embroidery, giving the embroidered items their uniquely respectable, refined romantic characteristics. In particular, the gracefully flowing movement, the composition of natural motifs where the abstract and imaginary flowers, as well as geometrical figures, provide graciousness and refinement in the embroidered items. (1)

The Madeira needlewoman became an expert in all types of needlework, from Cut Work to colored embroideries and tapestries in Tent Stitch. (2)

Ceramic Tile representing Madeira emboiderers, poto from this blog.
In the second half of the 19th century a woman born in an English family that was settled in Madeira since the 18th century started an embroidery school to teach impoverished workers. And she changed Madeira Embroidery forever... That story continues next week...

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