Madeira – the island embroidery

I am here on the beautiful lush green island of Madeira teaching on a quilting retreat. Where is Madeira? It is much further out in the Atlantic then I thought and although under Portugese rule, the island is off the coast of Africa.

It is famous for Madeiran wine, Madeira cake and hand embroidery. This morning we visited Patricio & Gouveia, a factory in the centre of Funchal. They are producers and exporters of Madeira handmade embroideries and tapestries. We were warned not to mention ‘machine’ in this building.

After entering the large shop, we climbed the beautiful wooden stairs, lined with old cork wall covering, and entered the tapestry department which then led into the design area. Here we were introduced to the lady who creates the embroidery designs. She showed us how she drew on paper and behind her was a wall full of card boxes, full of patterns.

We then climbed up another floor to the stenciling room where we were shown how indigo is used to print the perforated pattern onto the fabric. 
Piles of fabric from mats to coasters to handkerchiefs were printed and then made ready for the chief embroiderer from the villages to collect. They are distributed to the hand embroiderers all over the island, approx, 10,000 of them. At each stage the quality of workmanship is examined and if rejected no payment is made. The payment for a 1000 stitches is approx. 20 euros.

Each piece can take between four weeks and a year to complete depending on size and complexity! When the embroidery is completed they are returned to the factory to be washed, ironed, starched and wrapped.

When we reached the shop again, having seen the labour intensive processes, we could only admire the beautiful work.

A short walk away is the embroidery museum. Here, beautiful historic garments hand embroidered in detail were on display. There were also furniture pieces, incorporating tapestry, and small portraits of famous people such as Winston Churchill. I took this photograph before I realised that I should not have done so, but it does show why you should visit this lovely museum. 

We met the museum director who kindly gave us each copies of books written in English on both Madeira hand embroidery and Madeira Needlepoint. We would like to thank you Isabel for your incredibly generous gesture. 

About Karin

International quilting teacher and author. Enjoying semi-retirement after 23 years owning Quilters Haven shop/online in UK. Works with www. and organisers of several international quilt shows.
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