Sónia Mendez, Palm basketry

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Daughter of Portuguese parents but born in Venezuela, Sónia came to Portugal when she was 8 years old and began to learn how to work with palm with her grandmother. At around the age of 17, she made this art her profession and, until today, she defines her work as "Handmade, made with the Heart." Sónia creates modern pieces without forgetting ancestral techniques, valuing the finest materials.

Name of Craft in the local language
Cestaria em palma
Type of Craft
Palm basketry
Knowledge Holder
Sónia Mendez
Location, Website
Casa da Empreita, Rua Vice Almirante Cândido dos Reis n.º 20, 8100-612 Loulé, Portugal Link to website
Contact
sonia.mendez.artesa@gmail.com / +351 965 062 920
Type of Business
Newly founded business
Year of Establishment
1979
Successors
No

Workshop and sales space
Approximately 4m2 workshop and 8m2 shop
Materials
Palm
Technology / Tools / Machines
Scissors, needle, secateurs, pruning shears, pocket knife
Techniques / Processes
Braided, mesh and rope / Wild harvesting, drying, softening in water, whitening with sulphur, to pick, weaving, sewing
Members / Employees
1
Apprentices
No
Education of the Craftsperson
Learned the craft with her maternal grandmother between age 8 and 15; studied sewing and has trained in various areas of decorative arts, including porcelain painting.

Best-selling product
Simple lampshades in mesh (about 20 by 20 cm)
Average time of production
3 days
Average price per item
65 EUR – 80 EUR
Sónia Mendez, born in Venezuela, came to Portugal when she was eight years old and, from an early age, a taste and interest in the arts awakened in her. "Handmade, made with the Heart" is what defines her work.

She creates modern pieces without forgetting ancestral techniques and valuing the finest materials. Sónia learned how to work with palm from her maternal grandmother between the ages of 8 and 15 and later, around the age of 17, she made this art her profession until today. Another passion is painting, which she does in different ways and on different materials, of which she likes to highlight painting on tiles, as well as painting on ceramics. Over the years, Sónia has trained in various areas of decorative arts, including porcelain painting, in which she was a trainer for around 7 years. More recently, she’s also combining clay and palm to create decorative and utilitarian pieces.

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    Sónia also works at Casa da Empreita, where she chose to be photographed, and where people can visit her and buy her work.

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    Casa da Empreita recreates what more than a century ago were the “empreita” houses that then existed all over the Algarve, exclusively dedicated to the production and sales of works in palm. Located in an old building at the heart of the city's historic center, it is made up of a collective of artisans, on a rotational basis, who work and sell what they produce.

The palm she uses comes from Spain, but she also wild harvests her own, between May and October. For "whiter" material, one only takes a few parts from the middle of a stem, air-dries for 2 or 3 days, dampens the palm leaves, and places them in a bath of sulphur smoke for up to 10 days. The leaves are then picked along the veins, resulting in “strips”.

The “empreita” consists of the production of long “ribbons” made from braided strips. Each ribbon is arranged on a roll as it is produced. Traditionally, the ribbons are sewn with the thinner lateral leaves that were saved during the picking process, or with strips of palm, to give the shape of the object, creating a continuous fabric with a diagonal weave.

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    The other technique Sonia uses is the palm mesh, which consists of intertwining a palm cord with the plant's own leaves, forming an open net. This work is done only with hands. The rope, twisted with the remains of the leaves, is used to make the handles of flat baskets, finishings, or to sew pieces that need to become more resistant

In her over 46 years of experience, Sónia’s passion for working with palm has led her to not only master the traditional techniques and objects but also experiment and explore new ways of making.

Although her best-selling products are simple lampshades, she creates carrycots and flat baskets, handbags, placemats, key holders, sculptural nativity scenes, and personalized pieces on demand – many of which for hotels and restaurants that value more and more original, handmade decorative and utilitarian pieces. Within the array of works she has challenged herself to, we can highlight the hanging fish she made for a restaurant in the Algarve and sets of lampshades formed by “nachos” for a Mexican restaurant in Lisbon.