TOINO ABEL, Soft-Rush Basketry

PT_Nuno Henriques _Portrait 3

A Fine Arts graduate, Nuno Henriques founded TOINO ABEL in 2010, a workshop that specializes in the unique heritage of Portuguese soft-rush basketry, making it the first Portuguese basketry brand. The workshop sets an example with the high quality of its craftsmanship and the exceptional working conditions it provides to its dedicated team.

Name of Craft in the local language
Cestaria em Junco
Type of Craft
Artisanal production of traditional soft-rush basket making
Knowledge Holder
Nuno Henriques
Location, Website
R. de Leiria 16, Castanheira 2460-395 Coz, Alcobaça, Portugal Link to website
Contact
hello@toinoabel.com / +351 967 449 708
Type of Business
Drawing inspiration from the founder's great grandfather’s business and learning from the remaining local artisans in the same hometown, Nuno Henriques created his own, newly founded workshop.
Year of Establishment
2010 creation of brand / 2013 creation of workshop
Successors
No direct successors, although several collaborators have been trained in the craft and gone on to train others.

Workshop and sales space
TOINO ABEL is a small-scale business located in a traditional village that has been producing soft-rush baskets for over five centuries. The company has limited resources and only three team members who have been newly trained internally. The facility started in an old garage and has now been upgraded to a two-story, 200 m2 workshop. The production output is relatively small, with only 50 units produced each month, compared to traditional soft-rush houses that produce 600 units monthly. The company offers workshops for visitors and enthusiasts, on-site purchases, and a digital store for worldwide customers. The facility also adheres to annual safety guidelines and regulations.
Materials
Various materials are used, including wild soft-rush, vegetable-tanned leather, jute, linen, GOTS-certified organic cotton, and willow.
Technology / Tools / Machines
The main technology used in this craft is Tapestry. However, it is rich because it involves different techniques within the same object, such as stitching, dyeing, and willow intertwining. The mats, later converted into baskets, are woven in countermarch looms, keeping the full process - from preparing the soft-rush to weaving - entirely manual. Only a few mechanical devices are used, such as the aforementioned countermarch looms and also a guillotine to cut the wild rush, reflecting a pre-industrial era where electricity is not needed throughout the whole process. Dyeing is the only part that requires external energy, where local wood or gas is used. This last process is the one that presents the most concerns from energy efficiency to waste management.
Techniques / Processes
TOINO ABEL's craftsmanship is the result of employing various traditional techniques and processes, including weaving soft-rush, mastering all loom-related tasks, stitching soft-rush mats and leather pieces, intertwining willow strands, and combining materials on the loom.
Members / Employees
Currently, there are two full-time workers and one part-time team member.
Apprentices
Currently, there are no interns at the workshop. However, TOINO ABEL has offered paid internships for individuals interested in pursuing a career in crafts. The organization hosted six internships so far, with a total of seven participants, including five foreigners and two locals. Two of these internships resulted in an offering of a fixed working contract.
Education of the Craftsperson
Both full-time workers hold degrees. One in Fine Arts Painting and one in Agricultural Engineering.

Best-selling product
Lurdes Basket Size S
Average time of production
1 working day
Average price per item
189 EUR

Carta de Unidade Produtiva Artesanal em Cestaria. (Certified Artisanal Production Unit on Basketry)

Portuguese soft-rush basketry is a precious heritage passed down for centuries. Castanheira, a small town in the center of Portugal, produced most of the baskets in the 20th century, but by 2010, production had nearly vanished due to a lack of demand and new artisans.

Inspired by his great-grandfather’s business – whom he never met -, Nuno Henriques learned the technique with the remaining local artisans and founded TOINO ABEL to preserve this tradition, introducing innovations that helped local artisans thrive, thus inspiring new producers. TOINO ABEL started producing in-house, offering dignified working conditions, breaking the piece-rate payment system, and today, thanks to the dedication to excellence, soft-rush basketry flourishes again. The brand’s emphasis on quality craftsmanship and meticulous attention to detail is apparent in every piece, and TOINO ABEL is committed to responsible waste management and ensuring dignified working conditions for its team of dedicated artisans.

  • PT_Nuno Henriques _Workshop 3

    The workshop spans an area of 200 m2, with 2 manual looms, a warping mill, office, photo studio, shipping station, and ample storage space for dyed and natural soft-rush, jute and other yarn bobbins.

  • PT_Nuno Henriques _Workshop 5

    It also features exhibition shelves, an outdoor patio for fumigation, dyeing, soft-rush preparation, a small kitchen, and a bathroom.

Although the brand was created in 2010, TOINO ABEL has operated a workshop, since 2013, in Castanheira, the birthplace of local soft-rush basketry. At first, only final touches and details were worked but slowly it began to perform more tasks, becoming fully independent in 2019, with all stages being done in-house.

Located on a farm comprising 3 buildings, it has been continuously improved to enhance processes, safety and working conditions. The workshop is inspected annually by a certified team to ensure compliance with safety measures and standards. The farm also includes a 1000 m2 garden that serves as a composting area for production waste. 

Portuguese soft-rush baskets are crafted in an unusual way. It’s a team effort using a combination of several techniques, including the harvest and treatment of the soft-rush and willow, weaving and stitching.

TOINO ABEL, in particular, meticulously crafts each piece using a manual countermarch loom, which is an upgrade from the rudimentary legacy looms. The soft-rush is dyed with natural and legacy dyes, and the catalog offers 10 color options. The soft-rush is weaved on the loom, the resulting pieces are stitched together to form shape and a sturdy willow handle is added to finish off each basket. Due to this innovative process, TOINO ABEL also creates mats for various purposes. 

  • PT_Nuno Henriques _Product 5

    TOINO ABEL has mastered Portuguese soft-rush basketry, elevating the craft to a symbol of sophistication and style.

  • PT_Nuno Henriques_Product 6©TOINO ABEL_Nuno Henriques

    The Lurdes style basket, in size S and natural finish, showcases their innovation and appeals to the fashion-conscious customer.