We have plenty of Basketry Workshops in our subcultours offer in Portugal. Do you want to know how come? Well, then continue to read our article and learn more about this ancient Portuguese craft that can also be called "basketry art".
1. History of Traditional Basketry Art
Basket weaving is a very ancient craft in human history. Back in the days, humans made them to transport caught fish, to harvest and collect grapes and olives, to package dried figs, to sell both seeds and grains, and of course, to transport their groceries during shopping. Through many generations, the knowledge was passed down and grandparents taught their children and grandchildren how to weave the most beautiful baskets, made out of the leaves from trees and plants which they could find in nature surrounding them. Some of the baskets even had lids on top. Now you ask why? People used the baskets to take their picnic to work with them. They hung their baskets in the shadow of a tree until lunch-time.
2. Technique and Tradition of Portuguese Basketry Art
It was common that families ran their own small basketry business in the past. They harvested the leaves in spring. The next step was to sort the branches according to their length. After that, the branches were tied into bundles. The bundles were then put into iron baskets and boiled during the night. Why? So that the outer shell could be separated from the smoother inside part.
Small family businesses would then peel off the skin of the branches manually. Larger family units could allow themselves to invest in machinery to do this enormously tedious task. Once all the branches looked nice and clean, the next step was to dry the bundles. And then the next tough job started: The actually weaving work. In order to make a piece of furniture like an armchair, people would spend 2 entire weeks until its completion.
It was common that people spend the whole day weaving and rewarded themselves with dancing in the evenings. The bundles of willow fibers had a second purpose: They served as percussion instruments to make music for their evening dancing sessions.
Basketry has always been regarded as a very humble form of craft. It has been used over hundreds of years to create functional objects for all areas of people's daily lives.
3. Examples of Typical Portuguese Baskets
- The oval, large basket with a low handle
It was used to take food to workers in the fields. Usually, dogs would carry it and bring lunch including bread, meat, cheese and peppers. Nowadays they are used as picnic and children school baskets.
- The basket used in pairs, one each end of a stick that was balanced over the shoulder
This one served for carrying fish for sale and for carrying the lines and hooks for fishing.
- Round baskets made in willow
They were used for agricultural work, to carry produce, for tea picking and harvesting and for picking grapes.
- 2 large round baskets joined by a woven bridge across the backs of farm animals
They were mostly used to transport agricultural goods.
- The decorative round basket
This one was used for bread that people distributed during religious festivals.
- The coiled basket "baleio"
This one served to measure corn and wheat and was made in 4 sizes: To carry 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 and 1 kilogram.
4. Locations of Traditional Basketry in Portugal
It is the southeastern part of Madeira, that is well known for basket weaving. The basket willow, also known as the hemp willow, is grown there. You can see plantations all over the area. Their basket weaving tradition dates back to more than 400 years. They mostly create woven goods such as smaller utilitarian baskets and bowls for both tourists and the export industry.
Basket weaving in Gonçalo Village is a centuries-old tradition. Until the recent past, it was still the main activity in the village. Many Portuguese basket weavers had their roots in this location. They all started from a very early age to weave. They also invented the famous "Gonçalo Basket".
The Algarve is Portugal’s southernmost region. They are known for their "Empreita de palma" basket weaving craft. People over there use the foliage of the dwarf palm tree, the only native palm tree of the Algarve region.
When you are keen to dive deeper in the theoretical and historical part of Portuguese basketry tradition, you can visit some of these museums on the Azores, I listed for you below.
Museums with Traditional Basketry Art on the Azores
This privately run ethnographic museum belongs to an elderly couple. You can find everything from weaving to whaling.
Several museums in Ribeira Cha explain to tourists what a traditional life in the Azores looks like.
All the traditional Portuguese crafts are represented in several buildings.
This is an Ethnographic Museum on Santa Maria Island that showcases very old, wooden icons as well as traditional items and photographs.
5. Traditional Basketry Art Today
In today's world, this beautiful, reusable and totally natural way of carrying things has become a rather rare art.
It is mainly tourists who buy basketry products nowadays. They help to keep the industry alive.
Traditional baskets have been replaced by plastic or are no longer needed.
Nevertheless, there is a growing interest in the various weaving techniques from all around the world. Designers and architects are using the basketry patterns and create new forms and materials. It is also the natural fibers and the sustainable creation process of the basketry craft that help it to stay a relevant topic in the nowadays throw-away society.
Nothing more than water and heat is added to the processed parts. Each single product part of an artisan basket can straight go back to the forest and serve as nutrition.
6. Traditional Basketry Workshops with subcultours in Portugal
For most of the artists that are part of subcultours, basketry is more than a profession. It is a way of life for them. What they all share, is their love for plants, for the purity and simplicity of basketry and the sustainable way in which they can create long-lasting beautiful objects from raw materials.
Here is a list of our current Basketry Workshops in Portugal:
During her workshop artist Ysaline teaches you the different steps of ‘empreita de palma’: From braiding the palm leaves to sewing them into a small basket, so you can go home with your own customized piece!
Here you can choose between two options!
Option 1 is a Basketry workshop with "Bunho", a natural fiber that can be found in some swamps and humid environments. In this workshop you learn the first steps of the traditional basketry base and how to make three dimensional baskets with the help of moulds.
Option 2 is a Basketry workshop with "Caruma", a natural fiber which are the pine needles of the Portuguese forest. In this workshop you learn the steps of the traditional spiral coiling technique and how to make three dimensional baskets with these natural material.
During Maria João Gomes workshop you learn how to make "empreita" and create an entire basket from start to finish, preparing the palms, braiding them, making rope and sewing your piece. The highlight of Maria's workshops is that they take place at the beautiful "Museu to Traje" in São Brás de Alportel.
Catarina’s mission is to teach you how to create natural objects such as your own pair of wicker earrings or a beautiful wicker basket.
With Maria you learn a coil basket weaving technique where you gonna sew by hand, using natural textile fibers and wool and create your unique textile basketry piece of art.
With this article we hope we could excite you a bit for this incredibly sustainable ancient Portuguese craft. Yes, we did? Well, then please help to maintain this fascinating ancient craft by supporting our artists. They help keeping the tradition alive by sharing their precious knowledge during their Basketry Workshops with you! :)