November 29, 2012

Embroidered camisolas from Póvoa de Varzim - a men's story

OLÁ! Today I'm going to show you one of the most beautiful pieces of regional costumes I've ever seen. They are so different from what we have in Portugal (and maybe elsewhere)... I'm talking about fishermen embroidered pullovers from Póvoa de Varzim, a city in the Litoral North of Portugal well known for being a fishing community.

For the past months I've been talking here in feeling stitchy about women... The embroiderers that by one reason or the other and inspired by different influences were in the origin or the rediscovery of traditional embroidery in Portugal. There were many stories, but all of them were women's stories!  But this is a men's story... Men began embroidering the wool pullovers to be worn by other men... And when these embroideries were forgotten, one man recovered them... It's a special story!

"Tio Luiz Nicolau" from here
"O Peroqueiro" from here

The camisolas poveiras (pullovers from Póvoa de Varzim) are made of white wool yarn and then embroidered using black and red wool yarn. They reproduce fishing motifs and a kind of local code, a proto-writing system also compared to Nordic runes, sigla,  inherited from the vikings and used for many generations. Usually it was made with a razor on wood to mark family belongings, but it was painted on boats, too. I advise you to follow the link and read more on that... So interesting...

Sigla symbols reproduced in Portuguese Pavement, from here
When I was a child I used to visit my grandmother that lived in Póvoa do Varzim and I got to know the camisolas by her hands. I learned to embroider on my own, and the only technique that someone taught me was to embroider on a wool pullover to make it appear knitted instead of embroidered... My grandmother taught me this and although traditional wool pullovers are embroidered with cross stitch, in my childhood I always associated both types of embroidery with each other.

Embroiderer from Póvoa de Varzim, from here
Traditional embroidered pullover from Póvoa de Varzim, from here
They were made to protect fishermen from the cold and were used in pilgrimage and festive occasions. Boats, anchors, fishes, shells, oars crossed and coats of arms were embroidered in cross stitch. At the beginning (first half of nineteenth century) they were knitted in a nearby town and embroidered by the old retired fishermen from Póvoa de Varzim. They expressed all their sea life in their stitches. Years later the camisolas began to be made and embroidered by the mothers, wives and brides of fishermen.

Popular costume - Póvoa de Varzim, from here
But its history is marked by tragedy. In 1892, February 27, a great maritime tragedy forced the families of the 70 dead fishermen to dress in black putting aside their white costume for many years. Only in 1936 it was recovered by Santos Graça, while organizing the Poveiro Folk Group. Curiously, Santos Graça is the grandfather of one of my dearest Portuguese embroiderers and bloggers, avó meri, whose work I'll talk about one of these days...

Patterns used in Póvoa de Varzim embroidered camisolas, from here
I found these patterns used in embroidered camisolas from Póvoa de Varzim and I'm waiting for the opportunity to embroider them in cross stitch. Wouldn't you like to do the same?


  1. I think that's so interesting - my husband would be reluctant to wear any embroidery but I can see how this could translate into something he would be comfortable with.

  2. Lovely post! Thank's for sharing the portuguese embroidery. A kiss from Portugal.

  3. :) OMG!!! Gabi, do you believe I win my very first money embroidering these camisolas not in cross stitch but using the knitting stitches? Then I was very very young...

    For long I have a project : doing embroideries with the siglas using my grandfather's book about them - but I put off for a later time always afraid not being respecting my grandfather's dignity and work...

  4. não conhecia essa história da cultura portuguesa.....
    fico feliz em ter a oportunidade de conhecer, através de um blog que admiro.....

    abraços de Maria Filomena

  5. I have one of those pullovers! It was my mothers and it's so old it's getting all torn but I just can't throw it away. That work is beautiful.

  6. Thank you so much!!! It's beutiful and just like they are described! I really love them, you're so lucky Ana! Thanks for sharing. Gabi

  7. Parabéns Gabi, por mais este fabuloso artigo!