Originally from a genus with numerous species growing in the steppes of C and W Asia, Bracejo (or Baracejo) is a grass that grows wild and is harvested locally by craftspeople who use it in their own practice. It can be found in many different places in Portugal, in both dry and wet areas. It is extremely resistant and should be harvested by hand rather than machine-cut to ensure healthy growth.
Bracejo (giant feather grass, Stipa gigantea Link) a heliophilous grass species, that grows spontaneously in xerophytic silicic hillside meadows, in the steppes of C and W Asia. It is a plant adapted to prolonged periods of drought and high temperature ranges (-15º to +30º), which gives it good resistance to pests or diseases, and is popular food for ruminants, especially cattle. Photo by Pedro Arsénio
Its very fibrous and thin foliage presents the ideal characteristics for handling it in the production of utilitarian pieces. Extremely resistant, it should be harvested by hand rather than machine-cut to ensure healthy growth. Found a little everywhere in Portugal, especially in cold regions, it thrives in both dry and extremely wet areas, and craftspeople harvest it locally to use it in their own practice, in various basketry techniques, the most common being sewn braids and coiled. Photo by Pedro Arsénio
Crafting with this raw material was usually a hobby or a way to bring some extra income to the family. It was done at night or during the breaks in between the domestic or agriculture work.
The braided technique was done by both men and women who would get together and share the work. Women were usually responsible for making the braids with which men made the various pieces. Nowadays, the tasks are also separated differently, the craftswomen make the pieces (baskets, cushions, etc.), while the craftsmen master the braids and sew the pieces once they have been made.
The coiled technique, sewn traditionally with raffia, used to be made only by women. They would gather and spend time together making decorative baskets or bases. Today, as there are very few women doing this craft, they work by themselves, and craftspeople work mostly during the day, according to their needs and the orders they have. The most common products are baskets, mats and placemats, small brooms and cheese dairies. The harvest of this raw material helps keep fields clean, which is extremely important in countries like Portugal that suffer from fires in the summer. Harvesting also promotes the growth of new and healthy natural fibers, preventing them from drying out. Unfortunately due to climate change the plant hasn’t been growing as much as it used to and this can compromise the continuation of some crafts.