An Artist’s Haven Where Every Stitch Counts – Madeira
By Marina Rybak
There are very few places left in this brave new virtual world of ours where the values set for the entire community is built around the support of artistic expression, channeled through the hands of an artisan. The enchanting island of Madeira is such a haven, renowned for its distinct style of hand embroidery.
“The Pearl of the Atlantic” was discovered and settled during the Age of Exploration in the 15th century. Situated in the deep blue of the Atlantic Ocean on the major sea routes between Europe, the Americas and Africa, this lush, natural wonder with the best temperate climate in the world, is a picture-perfect template for Fantasy or Treasure Island.
Its tradition of hand embroidery goes back to the Madeira historic origins, but it is during the mid-19th century that this handcraft gained its international acclaim. The unique examples of the local embroidery were showcased at the Universal Exhibition in London in 1851. Rave British reception opened international doorways for a cottage industry which almost instantly became an important foundation of the island’s economy. Actually it nearly saved it, since its first “golden” export and an absolute favorite of our Founding Fathers – Madeira wine production went into a decline.
The embroidery character and its nature-inspired, flowing elements are recognized for its varied raised stitches, intricate cut work and scalloped edges. They are executed in linen or cotton batiste. Every step of the development and production process is still done by hand and every piece of the exquisite embroidery embodies something personal of the artist who creates it. The skill is passed on from the generation to generation.
There are close to thirty companies on the island and 4500 artisans, who belong to the Embroidery Workers Union with the option to work at home. The hand craftsmanship is revered and is upheld to the highest standard. Every single piece of embroidery that is produced on the island is certified by “The Madeira Institute of Wine, Embroidery and Handicrafts”.
Naturally it is the only artistic sanctuary in the world where embroidery and wine go hand in hand.