Tag Archives: Brazilian bobbins

Lace Making and a Tour of Fortaleza, Brazil

South America Map

South America Map

Brazil is a huge country in terms of landmass, being the fifth largest in the world. The country borders every other South American country except Chile and Ecuador. The population today numbers about 200 million people and the majority of them live in the larger cities. The major exports of Brazil include orchids, coffee, bananas, citrus fruits, and sugar.

The Amazon River lies mostly within Brazil and extends some 4,000 miles in length. The clear cutting of the Amazon rain forests and unsuccessful farming operations have caused the light, unproductive soils to erode; thus, the river is highly polluted with chemicals and soils and the highly visible plume from the contaminated waterway extends over 200 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean from its mouth.

Fortaleza, which is a modern city and major seaport for Brazil, is located on the northeastern coastline of the country, whose chief exports are coffee, cotton carnauba wax, beans, rice, sugar, fruits, rubber, hides, skins and rum. Tourism plays an important role in Fortaleza’s economy as well.

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Copyright Leoz Photos

Mary Jane took the shuttle bus to the old Victorian-styled jail, which has been converted into a craft center, and did a bit of shopping. Here she saw a multitude of local crafts for sale, but most eye catching were the beautiful examples of lace garments as well as dining and bed linens trimmed in lace and embroidery.

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One of our fellow cruisers, Tina, models a handcrafted vest.

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In the May 18, 1993 edition of the New York Times, Elizabeth Heilman Brooke wrote an article that describes the development of this craft.

Portuguese colonists brought their native tradition of weaving renda, or lace, to Brazil in the early 17th century. Designs and stitches were influenced by the regular visits of Spanish and French merchants, who distributed models of new kinds of lace popular in Europe. The traditions, techniques and lore of lace making are passed informally from one generation of women to the next. Wives and daughters of fishermen or farmers create lace collars, doilies and tablecloths to sell to supplement their families’ income.

These bone lace makers sit on simple wooden stools before a cylindrical fabric pillow, which varies in size depending on the type of lace to be made. Filled with grass or banana leaves, the pillow rests on a wooden cradle that can be adjusted to suit the comfort of the rendeira, or lace maker.

Unlike the Portuguese bobbins of old, which were made of blackwood, bone or ivory, Brazilian bobbins are often fashioned from small sticks of fine white wood from the tuberose or the quince tree. The sphere that tops the spindle is often a seed from the Brazilian wine palm; the pins holding the linen thread in place may be thorns from native cactus. A sheet of cardboard pierced with a design — perhaps flowers, birds or geometric shapes — serves as model for the lace maker.

The names of Brazilian stitches, translated from the Portuguese, are richly evocative: eyebrow, shell of the beetle, donkey’s ear, crazy rooster, good night, remember me. Poor man’s happiness is a simple lace that can be quickly made and is thus affordable to the less than prosperous. A sinuous design in the center of a piece of lace is called pig’s intestines.

This article was written in 1993. Twenty years later it is sad to say that the art of weaving lace by hand is dying out. In the market that Mary Jane visited, she spoke with a woman who came most days to the market to demonstrate this dying tradition. It was amazing to watch her weave the lace using the methods established so many generations ago.

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Barb chose to take the City’s Highlights tour. She rode through several parts of the city-some very nice, and some not quite so nice. There was evidence of a great deal of urban re-development in progress and many buildings that looked to be habitable were destined for demolition. The residents of this area do not seem to have a sense of history and pride in older structures. The impetus for this development is the upcoming World’s Soccer Cup Championships and the Olympics both of which will be hosted by Brazil in the near future.

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Her guide mentioned that in general many people do not want to work, although unemployment is low. Drugs are a big problem here especially for those between the ages of 14 and 34. Education is not a priority in this area and wages for teachers are less than a bus driver can earn.

She went to the Central Market – Mercado Central and had a good time exploring the wrought iron building with four floors of little shops featuring lots of local handicrafts, food, clothing, table linens, native hammocks, shoes, and other things as well, connected by ramps, staircases and elevators.

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Her next stop was the relatively modern, neo-classical cathedral that was completed in 1980 with beautiful stained glass windows. The reigning Pope was in attendance when the church was dedicated, and there are several stained glass windows recognizing various Popes along one sidewall.

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Next she visited the Art Nouveau style Jose’ de Alencar Theater, which was built-in 1910 as a memorial to the famous Fortalezan poet and is still used for theatrical performances. The ornate ironwork throughout this facility came from Scotland. It was an interesting place to visit with lovely interior decorations.

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