Thursday, 14 July 2011

Traditional Spanish Crafts- Esparto

Here in Andalucia there is still a strong tradition of using Esparto to weave various objects from baskets to shoes. The Esparto grass comes from the Graminea family and it grows wild in arid and stoney areas, particularly in the provinces of Almeria, Murcia, Alicante and La Mancha. The grass itself grows to about 70 cms in height and has been used since Roman times due to its exceptional hardwearing properties.

There are many uses for Esparto crafts but its mostly used for baskets known as an Esporton that is fairly large with two handles and is used for harvesting and transporting produce such as Olives. The Espuerta is a small mat used in the entrances of houses and you can also get a bigger version that is used like a blind at the windows to shade the interiors from the strong Andalusian sun. An Espartero is the name given to a person that works with Esparto.

The process of collecting Esparto is considerably labor intensive and although it can be collected all year round its best done in the Spring. The Esparto isnt cut but collected in small bunches that are ripped out including the root. Sometimes the remaining plant is then set alight to encourage new growth for the coming year.

Once collected the Esparto is then sorted for the best blades and then tied in bunches and left out in the sun for 40 days to dry it out fully and get its golden colour.

Once its been dried there are two ways of working the Esparto- Esparto Crudo or Esparto Picado. For Esparto Crudo the dried leaves are re-moistened for one or two days to give it back enough flexibility to work with. The Espartero then works the bunches of grass in pairs usually between 13 and 18 pairs plaiting them to make a cinta or long ribbon of esparto. This is then used to make various objects and is sewn together with the Esparto Picado which involves soaking the bunches of dried esparto for another 40 days to increase its resistence and then drying it out to later beat it against a tree trunk inorder to separate the fibres that make up the leaves and with these fibres they make strings with which to bind the plaitted esparto together.
Just near Ronda in the town of Igualeja there is a cooperative of 8 women that make all sorts of objects from Esparto and you can even have things made to order, although it takes several months to complete. Esparto products can be found in most of the handicraft shops in the town and there is also a large amount for sale in the Tourist office of Grazalema. Although quite expensive to buy an esparto object will last almost indefinately.

1 comment:

  1. hi there, I know a woman in the US who is interested in buying new esparto mats of the type that used to be used in olive presses.

    Do you have a contact number or name for the women's group in Igualeja?

    Thanks! ANn