Isidoro Ramos, Esparto Basketry

PT_Isidoro _Portrait-10

Isidoro, 59, learned "empreita" in esparto from his grandmother and mother but has only fully dedicated himself to the craft about 4 years ago. Since then, he is one of the very few to harvest this native plant that grows wildly in his hometown and surrounding areas in the Algarve. He is active in maintaining the art alive through training and other promotional activities.

Name of Craft in the local language
Empreita de esparto
Type of Craft
Esparto basketry
Knowledge Holder
Isidoro Ramos
Location, Website
Paderne, Albufeira. 8200-468 Paderne, Albufeira Link to website
Contact
isidoro.ramos@sapo.pt / +351 964 979 565
Type of Business
Newly founded business
Year of Establishment
2019
Successors
No

Workshop and sales space
12m2
Materials
Locally wild-harvested esparto (Latin: Stipa tenacissima)
Technology / Tools / Machines
Hands are the main tool but also uses wooden mallet, needles, scissors and pliers
Techniques / Processes
Braided and rope / Wild harvesting esparto by uprooting, drying, bathing in water, beating with a wooden mallet, spraying with water.
Members / Employees
1
Apprentices
No
Education of the Craftsperson
Learned with grandmother and mother 30 years ago; has 11th grade in electricity and had continuous training in telecommunications through the company he worked with.

Best-selling product
Small brooms (25-30 cm)
Average time of production
4 brooms a day
Average price per item
15 EUR
Isidoro learned "empreita" in esparto 30 years ago with his grandmother and mother but has only fully dedicated himself to the craft about 4 years ago, after making a pre-retirement agreement with the telecommunications company he worked with, an area that occupied his professional life.

Since then, he is one of the very few to harvest this native plant that grows wildly in the mountainous lands of the interior of the Algarve and is very active in maintaining the art alive—be it in the former elementary school turned educational center in his small hometown of Paderne, where he gives training, or by participating often in other promotional activities. Besides the traditional techniques learned, he researches on the internet new forms of working and shares experiences with Spanish neighbors, who he says have invested more in innovating this craft. He is also currently training in weaving to find new ways of working with esparto or to combine other materials with it.

Isidoro shares a workshop with his daughter, who works in restoration, in a small basement area, but often works on the street, under a shed, in his living room, or at Casa do Esparto, where he chose to be photographed.

  • PT_Isidoro _Workshop-01

    Casa do Esparto opened in April 2023 at the newly renovated and former elementary school in Aldeia das Sarnadas (it had been deactivated for 50 years), and functions as a cultural center from where artisans can make, show and sell their work, and also give workshops.

  • PT_Isidoro _Workshop-11

    Like most elementary schools, built under the dictatorship throughout villages in 1940’s, this is a one-story building covered with traditional terracotta roof-tiles, a large classroom, a kitchen, sanitary facilities and a porch.

The former porch is the main working area that has been closed with glass doors, guaranteeing great natural light from 3 sides of the room and protection from the elements. 

The ideal time to collect esparto is in Summer; the drier and rougher the land, the tougher the plant and the greater its quality and resistance.

It’s uprooted using a stick on which the fibers are rolled up and pulled from the ground. Small bundles are made to dry for about 2 weeks and regularly turned for uniform drying. For a golden color, these are sun dried; for a greener tonality, it’s done under shade. The fiber is then ready to be used in more decorative pieces. However, if the aim is for objects that require greater resistance and durability, or to obtain softer fibers, it must be submerged in water for a lunar cycle—a fermentation process that withdraws the cellulose—and then beaten to soften and dry. When working, water is sprayed on to ease the process. When working raw, it should be put in water for 1 day before beginning, then placed in a towel to maintain humidity. The most common techniques are braiding and roping, and a stitch known as “ponto de capacho.”

  • PT_Isidoro _Product-05

    Isidoro’s best-selling products are small, 25-30 cm brooms. He ventures, of course, onto other objects such as carrycots and flat baskets, handbags, lampshades, the traditional donkey heads, and other, more uncommon pieces like dream catchers and tea infusers.

  • PT_Isidoro _Product-04

    However, as he states, since the collection of the material can be so demanding as well as the handwork itself - in comparison to working with other fibers - the prices of many pieces can become quite expensive, making it a difficult craft to make profit from.