Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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The Embroidery of Castelo Branco, Portugal


Amazon Books

Castelo Branco is a city in Portugal just north of the Spanish border in central Portugal. Like many cities and regions in Europe, Castelo Branco has its own unique style of embroidery. Méri recently introduced me to this type of needlework when she sent me a beautiful magazine dedicated to the embroidery of Castelo Branco and featuring many gorgeous projects. Take a look!

The embroidery of Castelo Branco brings one word to mind – it is rich. It is rich in color, design, and symbolism.

Embroidery of Castelo Branco, Portugal

This traditional Portuguese embroidery is worked on a linen ground, traditionally with silk threads. The predominant filling technique used is Ponto Castelo Branco, or Ponto Frouxo – long satin stitches with a perpendicular thread couched over the satin stitching to secure it. The technique reminds me very much of Italian stitching, which is comprised of long silk satin stitches couched over with gold passing thread (I used this technique for the sky in my Agnus Dei project). The obvious difference is the type of thread used for couching.

Embroidery of Castelo Branco, Portugal

Among the other stitches used in the embroidery of Castelo Branco, you’ll find satin stitch, stem stitch, long and short stitch shading, chain stitch, French knot, detached chain stitch, fern stitch, fly and feather stitch, shadow stitch, herringbone stitch, straight stitch, and various fillings. Méri was very kind to translate the stitches for me! The magazine, Belas Ideias, published by tuttirév, includes not only an abundance of designs but also a pictorial stitch dictionary.

Embroidery of Castelo Branco, Portugal

The embroidery is by no means “popular” or common embroidery – it was worked, in its day, for those who could afford to pay for it.

Embroidery of Castelo Branco, Portugal

It seems the most wide-spread application was in decorating bed coverings, which were often part of the trousseau or dowry of a young bride. Today, the embroidery of Castelo Branco can still be purchased or commissioned, with prices ranging all the way up to 45,000 Euros for a bedspread, depending on size and design.

Embroidery of Castelo Branco, Portugal

Have you noticed that the designs are somewhat reminiscent of Jacobean embroidery? The tree of life is a common image, as are fanciful birds, animals, flowers, vines and tendrils, and fruit.

Embroidery of Castelo Branco, Portugal

The elements included range from the sacred to the profane, and many of them have symbolic meaning.

I think this embroidery style is lovely! While it is like Jacobean in some respects, in other respects it is quite unique – the abundance of couched-over satin stitching is defintely different, and the threads used are a flat, lightly twisted silk (originally, a filament silk – today, artificial silks are also widely used).

The designs in the magazine are calling my name!! (They’re practically screaming, actually!) Méri often teases me for introducing her to embroidery she “must” try (like the Schwalm project!), but I think she has avenged herself! I’ve added this to my perpetually growing List of Things to Do, and I’m already looking ahead for my next block of time, where I can set up a small project. There’s an ideal “little” project in the magazine, which would make a perfect Christmas gift.

Thank you SO much, Méri, for introducing me to the embroidery of Castelo Branco! The book is beautiful! Thanks, as well, for the linens and threads! I will make use them all soon and keep you posted on how it goes!


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(11) Comments

  1. Mary, you've done it again! I have three more weeks to develop a design for the Jacobean module of the RSN cert, and these patterns really hit the creative part of what little brain I have left!

    Thank you, too, for spreading the word on little-known, regionalized, and lost techniques. We need to preserve the knowledge of the needleworkers before us AND isn't it a bonus that it's such fun to learn new things! I can't wait to investigate this embroidery style.

  2. Thank you so much for featuring this!

    My family is from Portugal, so this is fascinating. I'm more familiar with the ubiquitous Madeira embroidery even though my family is from the mainland. I was exposed to embroidery as child, but I wasn't taught it since the women in my family mainly did crochet.

    I also love Méri's blog!! She has also inspired me 🙂

  3. Hello. I've been lurking for some time, often tempted to post on many of the lovely projects and techniques. This us the one that's drawn me out of hiding.

    Does the magazine give any indication when this embroidery style originated? I play in the SCA, specializing in Portuguese culture and needlework history. Castelo Branco appears to combine the richness of English Jacobean design with the traditional use and stitches of Indo-European bed coverletsl; the Portuguese conducted a thriving trade with Indian-made goods in the 16th century. I'm very much hoping this style of embroidery isn't just a Victorian invention of what amateur scholars thought was a Renaissance technique….

    I didn't see anything on Meri's blog about this magazine. Did she mention how or where it was available?

    Many thanks,
    Dawn Tavares
    Salt Lake City, Utah

  4. Hi, all! Thanks for your comments! I'm glad you're as enthusiastic about CB embroidery as I am! I was so pleased to see this book and am really looking forward to setting up a sample project!

    And yes, I love Meri's blog, too! I visit her there regularly – and I'm happy to say we communicate outside the blog world, too! She's a wonderful lady!

    Hi, Dawn – I've done a little reading on the style of embroidery. Some sources (including this magazine and a few "museum" blurbs) state that examples of this work can be found as far back as the 16th century. It apparently began to become popular in the 17th century, and in the 18th century, it enjoyed even a greater increase in popularity because of the revitalization plans for Portugal's textile industry.

    All the sources I've seen mention predominantly 17th & 18th centuries, a few mention early samples from the 16th century, but none at all mention anything "Victorian-ish" at all.

    The contact info for the publisher of the magazine is in the post above – you can probably contact them for a back issue.

    Hope that helps!

  5. Hi Mary and Meri,
    Thanks for sharing. This is so beautiful.

    Wow! I am learning more each day and I must say that I am truly enjoying this learning curve.

  6. I'm sooooo glad that you like this little gift, Mary! I was sure you'll do!
    And glad for all the readers like CB embroidery!
    In this magazine we can read that the first pieces of Castelo Branco embroidery appeared about the end of 16th century and the multiplicity of inspiration resources passes by Persia, China, India undergoing the influence of Renaissance and Baroque taste.
    I'm looking for a book about it for long ago and can't find. Even this magazine was hard to find! I've waited for it for long weeks.I hope I will have some news about CB embroidery and then I'll inform Mary to spread the word (mine is a little blog in a bad English)
    By the way Dawn Tavares(excuse me, Mary, for using your comments but I have no other manner)I should like to know your work about Portuguese needlework history – I don't know what is SCA…- your name Tavares is Portuguese, isn't it?

  7. Just now I noticed that you have written "a city in Portugal just north of the Spanish border in central Portugal" I think you want to write "just next of the Spanish border", isn't it?

  8. Hi, Méri! Ah, there you are! I was hoping you would stop in for a visit! I don't mind at all if you use my comments – this is what they are for!

    I did really mean north of the Spanish border – I think it is closer to Spain in the north-south direction than in the east-west direction. Spain juts in to Portugal right below Castelo Branco. So it is really next to Spain on two sides – it is both north and west of the Spanish border. I would imagine there must be a history behind this – it seems as if the city would be in a more difficult position to defend itself (back in history's more warlike days…)

    It's a beautiful style of embroidery – the more I look at it, the more I'm dying to do something. I think a small bird, just for the sake of the technique, would be fun!

    I'm off to work!

  9. The Ponto Frouxo technique sounds very similar to Bayeux stitch, which as the name suggests, was used extensively on the Bayeux Tapestry, though in that case in wool. It's a very useful stitch for filling in areas quickly, and I bet it looks great worked in silk.

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