Portugal is a country packed with history, and many traditions associated with that history, that vary greatly across its provinces. When it comes to crafts (artesanato), Portugal has a wide range of traditional techniques that are used with various materials.
While perusing at the numerous craft fairs across the Algarve, you will be delighted with a selection of creations in the form of fabrics (blankets, runners, towels, fine linens and rugs); ceramics (swallows, sardines, tiles); copper (cataplana); wrought iron (benches, chairs); cork (bags, wallets, purses). So let’s talk about some of the more popular decorative objects that you can typically find in the Algarve.
Baskets & Hats
The Algarve is very well known for its ‘cestaria’ (basket weaving) that goes back many generations. The materials typically used are palma (palm leaf), cana (cane) and vime (wicker). ‘Empreita de Palma’ is when the fan shaped palm leaf is rolled into different shapes producing objects such as baskets, hats or door mats.
This work is normally carried out by women, with Estômbar being very well known locally for their hats. If you travel to the Monchique mountain range area or the Guadiana valley, you will see baskets weaved with cane and wicker.
This cooking pan, more commonly seen made of copper, consists of two concave parts that fit together, secured with a hinge and side locks. The cooking method when using this pan is quite straightforward: the ingredients are placed raw inside the cataplana, which is then sealed and left to cook on a low heat, slowly releasing the flavours. Simple but wonderfully delicious!
Cadeira de Tesoura de Monchique
The Monchique scissor chair is a piece of furniture that takes its name from the movement it makes when opening and closing – resembling a scissor movement. While in the past, officers used to cut the wood and transport it to their workshops for assembly, nowadays, the process has been somewhat simplified. All the parts that make up the chair are now made from moulds previously produced by the craftsmen and assembled on site, thus allowing for a speedier process.
Renda de Bilros
Bobbin lace is a process that involves the use of a pike card (with a drawing traced on it by specialists), pins and bobbins. Textile thread is wound onto the bobbins and with the help of pins, these threads are crossed or interlaced successively onto the pike card, following the pattern drawn on it. This very specialised process produces stunningly intricate patterns that scream quintessential Portugal.
As well as the lace products, embroidery is another speciality in the fabric genre. Beautiful patterns can often be seen embroidered onto a variety of linen products such as towels, tablecloths, pillowcases, and bread bags – to name a few. In the Monchique area, saddlebags and blankets are embroidered for use on mules when travelling around the mountains.
If you’re looking for something a little bit different, these dolls could be the perfect option. Generally, these dolls, made of burlap with a wire reinforced body, are made to represent figures of the region. Their wigs are made from linen and their clothing is made with printed cotton. Each of these figures then has an adornment, made of metal wood or clay, to represent their activity within the community.
Has your curiosity been arisen with this little taster of Portuguese craftsmanship? If so, why not take yourself off on a voyage of discovery into the little towns and villages of the Algarve to see these little gems for yourself, and maybe discover some other crafty delights on your travels.
Alternatively, if you would prefer to visit a market, exhibition or fair, you could check when the next one is taking place on the Visit Algarve website. Decorating your home will never be the same again once you’ve experienced Portuguese artesanato.