Now and again, in my Spanish (Galicia) folk textile research, I come across hand-woven bed-covers decorated with human figures or animals like the figure shown in this sample which I wove a few days ago.
These coverlets use the technique of Galician Felpa (or gorullo), ancient loop-pile weaving technique which is over 1400 years old. It was one of the most common weaving techniques in this northern region of Spain. In 2009 I had the opportunity to examine Galician textiles in the museum stores of the Museo del Traje in Madrid (The Costume Museum). There I found one such coverlet, with not just one or two figures, but a whole collection of dancers and craftsmen, all picked out with Galician felpa, with hundreds of thousands of individual loops. The simple, naieve, childlike figures on felpa coverlets have a special charm of their own. They are, I believe, a very traditional feature of traditional folk textile design in Galicia. In the felpa textiles I weave and sell at my Textile Studio in the Ribeira Sacra in Galicia, I like to incorporate elements of traditional design, especially when I feel they translate well into a modern context.
Figures such as these have a naieve charm and appeal that is, in fact, timeless. When I wove the little felpa figure based on the museum coverlet I was aware that I was bringing something that was virtually lost from traditional Galician life and art – and giving it new life again. It is not enough simply to weave these traditional figures into new felpa textiles, however; as Galicians themselves are often unaware of their own textile tradition it is very important to explain what these figures mean. What is the point of having a rich folk art textile tradition if you don´t actually recognise it? It is for this reason, in part, that I give textile talks about the coverlets, write articles, and teach felpa weaving – so the weaving tradition is once again recognised and people can choose a felpa textile as a culturally-significant as well as a beautiful textile. Fixing the technique in tradition and explaining how felpa textiles are made also helps people to understand the price of felpa textiles which is considerably higher than normal textiles. For each individual loop is hand-formed with the weaver´s fingers, not with the shuttle. This means a cushion may take a day and a half to make.
Some regions of Spain have lost their traditional textile tradition almost completely. In Galicia there was a very strong peasant weaving tradition but it is still in danger of disappearing completely. There are several weavers, like myself, who still make Galician felpa textiles. The purchase or commission of these textiles in Galicia today is a cultural act full of significance. It is not simply the purchase of a any old cushion or wall-piece, but an expression of identity. In Galicia today more and more people are beginning to place a higher value on tradition. The best way to value a cultural tradition is by keeping it alive. The best way to keep alive an old textile tradition is by supporting the weavers.
This post is also available in: Spanish