The Arraiolos - Winter 2023 Story Collection is inspired by Tapete de Arraiolos - a regional rug making tradition from the village of Arraiolos, Portugal. Tapete de Arraiolos are hand embroidered rugs or carpets that are a central product of the Alentejo region of Portugal.
View of vineyards, cork trees, hill towns, and open fields of the Alentejo region.
Map of Alentejo region of Portugal. Source: Gifex.com
Arraiolos rugs are the result of a unique regional interpretation of rug making, which developed in the village of Arraiolos by at least the 18th century, but likely dates back to around the 16th century. Local sheep and flax were farmed to provide the materials needed to make the rugs, and dye plants were imported or sourced locally.
Example of Tapete de Arraiolos carpet in private collection in Portugal.
Although the origin of the Arraiolos technique is disputed, the style, motifs and dyes appear to have been inspired by examples of Persian, Moorish, and Islamic textiles brought back to Portugal by explorers beginning in the 15th century. These explorers were integral to the building of Portugal’s extensive colonial empire, which at one time stretched from the Americas to Japan.
Dye stuffs included madder root, indigo, woad, cochineal, Brazil wood, logwood, among others natural materials. Local families specialized in the various steps in the rug making process, from raising sheep and flax farming, to wool and flax processing, dyeing, warping, designing, and stitching.
Natural dye interpretive signage, Arraiolos, Portugal.
The carpets typically include a single color background with a central motif surrounded by a series of borders, often framed by corner motifs. The rugs are created using an oblique cross stitch (or long legged cross stitch) that knots each stitch in place. The tapestries are stitched using thick wool in rows of color to create pixelated motifs inspired by the flora and fauna of the region as well as Moorish, Persian and Islamic inspired designs.
The artisans and production facilities necessary to create the tapestries were centered in the village of Arraiolos. There is archeological evidence of 13th century dye pots near the town square, revealing the village's long history of textile production.
The Arraiolos tapestry tradition continued in the region through the late 19th century when many industries in Portugal collapsed as a result of the ongoing French invasion. In the early 20th century, efforts were made to revive the tradition through a series of exhibitions of private collections of Arraiolos rugs at museums in Lisbon. This inspired new rugmakers to learn the tradition by copying museum examples, which often led to the comingling of eras and styles.
In 2013, the Centro Interpretativo do Tapete de Arraiolos (Arraiolos Rug Interpretive Center) was opened in the center of the village of Arraiolos to exhibit a collection of Arraiolos textiles dating from the 17th to 21st centuries. The mission of the center is to: “encourage the study and promotion of the collection, and to conserve, protect, recognize and highlight the value of the Arraiolos rug as a form of artistic, materials and immaterial heritage (Tapete de Arraiolos, Centro Interpretativo guide book)”.
Many of the examples in museum collections were so faded that it was difficult to determine the vibrancy and intensity of the original color palettes. It was not until the early 2010s that new scientific analysis was begun to identify the original colors of the Arraiolos rugs. Wool samples were extracted from carpets dating from the 17th to 19th centuries that were held in the National Museum of Ancient Art in Lisbon. The samples were “analyzed to identify the natural dyes and mordants employed in the traditional dyeing process, in a way to complement and improve actual knowledge on the rugs" (Abstract, Unveiling the colour palette of Arraiolos carpets).
Analysis found that the appearance of the original colorways had faded over time, changing from vibrant, saturated colors to a more muted palette, a not uncommon issue with natural dyes. Color shifts were also observed, most notably the original strong red now visible as a faded gold.
Incorporating the color data from the this scientific analysis, the Portuguese government commissioned a series of new rugs during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 in order to both employ local artisans and to create contemporary examples for museum collections. This led to a new understanding of the vibrancy of the historical color palettes and deeply influenced our color palette for The Arraiolos Story Collection. The Arraiolos tradition continues today and many makers create the tapestries at home while adding their own contemporary flare, including examples using hot pink wool and contemporary motifs.
Originally created as functional floor coverings, today Arraiolos rugs are a highly collectible regional product and a draw for cultural tourism. Examples can be seen in shop windows, private homes, and churches, as the rugs are important examples of material culture in the region.
We had the great opportunity to visit the Alentejo region in person in August 2022 to learn more about the historical context and contemporary practice of Arraiolos rug making. This trip was organized by Sarah Pedlow of Threadwritten with assistance from Antonio Pliz. Threadwritten offers creative learning experiences in embroidery and traditional textiles through workshops and travel tours in the United States and Europe. Threadwritten is working to support woman artisans and preserve traditional textile practices through research, education and the cultivation of a global community of makers.
The Arraiolos -Story Collection includes four mini skeins (each approx. 25g) of worsted weight 100% superwash wool milled in the US. The collection can be ordered from the Quill & Quiver Fiber web shop here starting on February 4, 2023 at 9am PST: https://quillandquiverfiber.com/products/the-arraiolos-winter-2023-story-collection
Christy’s background in historic paint analysis and color informed the development of the color palette for this collection. Seeking to unveil the vibrancy of the historic color palette of Arraiolos carpets, she chose rich and vivid colors inspired by the landscape and natural dye plants of the Alentejo.
The colorways in the collection are:
Alentejo - Drawing from one of our favorite background colors found in historic Arraiolos carpets, this rich and deep chocolate brown features layers of black and warm chestnut. This colorway also represents the fertile soils of the Alentejo region.
Tapete - Tapete means “rug” or “carpet” in Portuguese. This rich rust with hints of brick red and terra cotta is often seen in examples of the Tapete de Arraiolos of the Alentejo region.
Corante - This raspberry base has dark burgundy lowlights and highlights of magenta. Corante means “dye” in Portuguese and this color celebrates the deep reds and purples of cochineal, logwood, and other natural dyes used in Arraiolos carpet production.
Évora - Many Portuguese villages feature distinctive and uniform colors of stucco buildings that stand out from the surrounding landscape. This soft ochre with a confetti of bright red, pink, indigo and burnt orange is drawn from the yellow buildings that line Évora’s winding cobblestone streets.
Sources of more information:
- History of Arraiolos rugs: https://www.visitevora.net/en/arraiolos-visit/
- Arraiolos Rug Interpretive Center, Arraiolos, Portugal: https://www.tapetedearraiolos.pt/
- Centro Interpretativo, Tapete de Arraiolos, 2014. Guidebook available at the Arraiolos Rug Interpretive Center, Arraiolos, Portugal.
- “Unveiling the colour palette of Arraiolos carpets: Material study of carpets from the 17th to 19th century period by HPLC-DAD-MS and ICP-MS,” Journal of Cultural Heritage Volume 15, Issue 3, May–June 2014. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1296207413001350
- Tour the Alentejo region with Threadwritten in August 2023! https://threadwritten.com/evora
All images by Quill & Quiver Fiber. Copyright: Quill & Quiver Fiber, 2023. All Rights Reserved.