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Esparto in our lives

I am crazy for esparto. Baskets, espadrilles, cords , rugs, poufs, shutters, baseboards…there are hundreds of uses for esparto in one’s life

Where I come from in Andalucia it is a big business and it is all made by hand. Esparto is hardy, resistant, waterproof and environmentally friendly, as well as beautiful to look at. I think that my love for esparto comes from my mother who used to have a pile of different sized big baskets to go to the market with, as well as over 50 other baskets of every size to use as bread and fruit baskets, flat baskets to lay out fruit and vegetables, baskets for napkins, baskets for the chimney fire wood, baskets for magazines etc etc

Esparto grass, or halfah grass, can only be found in Southern Spain, which makes for the better quality one, and also grows in some parts of North Africa, the Tripoli variety which is coarse .

Esparto is ever-present in our daily lives in Spain but unfortunately it is  very heavy and thus too expensive to export bales to the USA.  I am particularly inspired by the esparto shutters or blinds used in cities like Sevilla and Cordoba to keep the broiling sun out . In most andalucian cities the temperatures soar in july and august to an average of 40 degrees celsius (104 fahrenheit) and we live nicely with no air conditioning. Houses are open during the cool morning hours, porous stone floors are mopped and a lot of water is sloshed on them after which the esparto curtains are pulled down, this means that the house will be kept cool all day through evaporation and lack of direct sunlight.

The best place to buy esparto products  from is elespartero.com, they export all over the world and can make everything  in any size and just for you. Persianas Alfalfa in Sevilla also make bespoke esparto shutters and blinds 

The Spanish website Real Fabrica España specializes in artisanal and sustainable  handcraft pieces from all over Spain, and they also propose a few items like pretty handbags and items for the home. 

The gorgeous animal heads come from Cesteria Sagon in Madrid, dani@cesteríasagon.com

At the bottom of this post I have included a very detailed description of the art of esparto and how it is made, from the blog albaverde.com

 

Esparto grass as it grows all over Andalucia

 

 

 

Some of the many uses of esparto

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love these esparto zocalos or baseboards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I really like this idea that just by pulling up or down the heavy curtains you can turn a little summer shed or cabaña into a proper room for napping or sleeping in the summer. This is from the Persianas Alfalfa website.

 

 

Here are shots from my last Andalucian trip to a couple of villages where you still find esparteros making baskets.

This first gentleman is Antonio El Sordo and as his name indicates, Antonio the Deaf One, he is deaf and mute and at 84 years old works from his garage. Here Antonio is making a huge zocalo or baseboard for someone’s caseta in the Sevilla feria….that is 60 square meters of zocalo!  It takes him one year, first he has to order the new esparto which arrives end of august, then it has to dry, and only then he can weave it and it takes him 6 months to make.

check this out

 

 

 

 

My favorite esparto shop is this one. This funny badass lady called Juani makes esparto baskets, repairs chairs and fabricates all sorts of other items from this tiny shop/atelier  in a village in the mountains.

 

 

 

 

With my friend Flo buying baskets 

 

A donkey on a hill in the middle of nowhere

 

 

 

From the beautiful Madrid workshop of Javier S. Medina  photographed below, some lovely animal heads.   Javiersanchez-300@hotmail.com

javier medina esparto

 

javier medina esparto

 

javier medina esparto

 

javier medina esparto

 

javier medina esparto

 

 

And from the albaverde blog  I have copied and pasted this very interesting and detailed text :

 

Traditional Spanish Crafts- Esparto

 
Here in Andalucia there is still a strong tradition of using Esparto to weave various objects from baskets to shoes. The Esparto grass comes from the Graminea family and it grows wild in arid and stoney areas, particularly in the provinces of Almeria, Murcia, Alicante and La Mancha. The grass itself grows to about 70 cms in height and has been used since Roman times due to its exceptional hardwearing properties.There are many uses for Esparto crafts but its mostly used for baskets known as an Esporton that is fairly large with two handles and is used for harvesting and transporting produce such as Olives. The Espuerta is a small mat used in the entrances of houses and you can also get a bigger version that is used like a blind at the windows to shade the interiors from the strong Andalusian sun. An Espartero is the name given to a person that works with esparto.
The process of collecting Esparto is considerably labor intensive and although it can be collected all year round its best done in the Spring. The Esparto isnt cut but collected in small bunches that are ripped out including the root. Sometimes the remaining plant is then set alight to encourage new growth for the coming year.
 
Once collected the Esparto is then sorted for the best blades and then tied in bunches and left out in the sun for 40 days to dry it out fully and get its golden colour.Once its been dried there are two ways of working the Esparto- Esparto Crudo or Esparto Picado. For Esparto Crudo the dried leaves are re-moistened for one or two days to give it back enough flexibility to work with. The Espartero then works the bunches of grass in pairs usually between 13 and 18 pairs plaiting them to make a cinta or long ribbon of esparto. This is then used to make various objects and is sewn together with the Esparto Picado which involves soaking the bunches of dried esparto for another 40 days to increase its resistence and then drying it out to later beat it against a tree trunk inorder to separate the fibres that make up the leaves and with these fibres they make strings with which to bind the plaitted esparto together
 
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Just near Ronda in the town of Igualeja there is a cooperative of 8 women that make all sorts of objects from Esparto and you can even have things made to order, although it takes several months to complete. Esparto products can be found in most of the handicraft shops in the town and there is also a large amount for sale in the Tourist office of Grazalema. Although quite expensive to buy an esparto object will last almost indefinately.
Enjoy !


9 responses to “Esparto in our lives”

  1. Celia Halsey says:

    Fascinating information on this versatile grass and wonderful traditional craftmanship. Do you know where I could buy a small bundle of the unwoven grass? Strange request – but would like to display some in our museum. In 19th and early 20th Century, it was used extensively in UK for papermaking and we’re wanting to show it in an exhibition about the cargoes carried on the canals. Any help sourcing some very welcome!

    • eugenia says:

      Hello Celia….you should try to contact one of the providers i list in my post. I am sure that they can help you source some !
      regards fashionsphinx

  2. Valerie Aikman-Smith says:

    I need to go there right now!

    • fashionsphinx says:

      YES Come ! they will make anything you need to measure !
      xxxxxxxx fashionsphinx

  3. Victoria Melian says:

    Me encanta!!!
    Consumimos mucho en este estudio…..

  4. maggie says:

    FANTASTIC ! love it !!!

  5. Bien chiné says:

    I love Esparto, too. Good explanations and references. Our craft traditions that shoud no desappear.
    Great post!!
    Nines

    • fashionsphinx says:

      gracias a ti ! mandarlo y compartirlo en facebook , a ver si asi la gente se hace mas sensible hacia este arte y tradición que se pierden

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