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Types of Embroidery
Although Nisa’s famous art can be recognised in various types of embroideries, it is unquestionably the famous “alinhavados” (meaning ‘basted’) that best showcase all its artistic quality and originality. Unmatched in Portugal, the origins of Nisa’s embroidery probably trace back to the embroideries in white that spread from Italy throughout Europe in the fifteenth century, or even before, learnt in noble houses by female workers who gave it a personal touch, turning something scholar into popular – the “alinhavados” are true works of art of indisputable creativity, rigour and beauty.

Notwithstanding, the “alinhavados” aren’t the only example of this artistic labour. It can also be found in the marvellous shawls, baubles, embroidered blankets (or “coberjões”), bobbin and needle-point lace, felt applications…


Detail of an embroiderer working on an alinhavado.

Towel detail with alinhavado (caramelo – oldest style), fringe with bobbin lace embroidery.

Traditional shawl embroidered with chain stitch.


Also known as “desfiados” (unthreaded), “ramo de pano” (branch of cloth, inspired by the motif usually found in these embroideries) or caramels (used in reference to old embroideries), Nisa’s “alinhavados” are the most popular example of its embroidery art.

Executed in linen cloth or “alinhado” (composed of linen and cotton), or even in raw cloth (as is the case with the poorest embroiderers) the “alinhavado“ is a white embroidery in which the necessary threads are removed from the cloth’s weft (usually double the amount of threads left), so that the drawing’s background is left open, with the remaining threads furnished by stitch sieve.  The drawing’s outline is made by a thread stitch, or buttonhole stitch, and the sieve is made up of rolled up sheaves (a distinctive characteristic of the local sieve), which makes the embroidery more resistant, hence the famous popular saying “the cloth ends, but the embroidery remains.”

As for the older embroideries, called “caramelos”, of geometrized kind (the locals call it “olho de rola” sieve), they have no unthreaded cloth, and the shapes come to life by filling small squares that outline the drawing with a cross stich.

Probably because, in ancient times, there was no carbon paper available in the village or nearby, the motifs or drawings were cut out in paper and basted on the cloth. The chosen composition was then attached with pins to a pillow, from which you could then remove the threads and start embroidering the sieze and the outlines.

But if, in the old days, the motifs were varied, ranging from human figures to animals, Christian crosses, geometrical shapes, fleurons, flowers and leaves, nowadays only floral motifs are used.

Applied in different types of pieces, the “alinhavados” generally fill the whole cloth in big cushions, centrepieces and other similar cloths, and are mainly found in quilts, sheets, pillow-slips, table and face towels, bread cloths and clothing, many times associated with bobbin lace.

Essential pieces of Nisa’s traditional garment, which makes them of the most significant in Nisa’s handicraft. Executed in a technique similar to the one used in blankets, but applied in wool cloth – in the past made of wool, nowadays from fiber – there are black and white shawls, the latter used during Carnival season, combined with the correspondent red felt skirt, composed by a black “rameado”, also in felt.

In order to embroider these works of art, you need the cloth (square shaped, after being cut in half assumes triangular shape), multiple coloured threads, a needle, scissors, the thimble and carbon paper, through which you will outline on cloth the drawing to be embroidered. The shawl is finished off in wool, with a crochet needle, but the piece is effectively finished only when the “lérias” stitch is executed (with a thin needle and some lace). This stitch is also referred to as “franjas de rabinho de gato” (cat tushie bangs), a local expression inspired by the emboss and softness of this embroidery.

Embroidered Blankets or “Coberjões”
A milestone in Nisa’s history, these were, until a few decades ago, an inevitable part of the girls’ trousseau. A work of grandeur, involving long hours of dedication during which the eyes have no rest, these traditional embroidered blankets, made in white or black felt, are manually embroidered with particoloured threads and employ traditional motifs similar to those found in pottery (local flora).

As for the technique, it involves a twisted stitch, or “pé de flor”, satin stitch and the knotted stitch, which, like the colours, are used according to the embroiderer’s taste and artistic sensibility. After that, a buttonhole stitch is made around the whole blanket to finish it off.

To make one, you need at least 2.5m of felt, lots of embroidering lines, scissors, needle, thimble and the inevitable carbon paper, to trace the drawing into cloth.

Felt applications
Typically associated with Nisa – found in traditional sash blankets, pallet skirts, centrepieces, but also kitchen handles, coats, covers and curtains – embroideries on felt are one of the oldest embroidery techniques, usually associated with wool goods producing centres, particularly at Serra da Estrela and throughout the Beiras region, its application being especially necessary for the shepherds' cloaks. Because the sale of wool and "baeta" produced in that part of the country was an ancient wont in local markets, Nisa has for a long time suffered that influence – and decisively so.

Felt can be hand embroidered on, though it’s also common to wear a sewing machine to work on it: baste two differently coloured parts of felt overlayed with drafting paper in between, where the drawing is outlined. Carefully cut through the cloth and you get and embossed piece. The most popular drawing motifs are flowers, vine leafs, all kinds of leaves, grape bunches and other examples of local flora.


Needle-Point Lace
The needle-point lace was especially used in quilts which took years to make. Generally, these were used only in festive days, weddings and christenings.


Bobbin lace
A highly detailed lace, its embroidering catches the eye but also the spectator’s ears, through the unique sound emanating from the wood bobbins. It’s made on a grindstone-type surface, a kind of pillow filled with straw, set on an easel with a strong paper sheet showing a perforated outline of the drawing. The threads connected to the bobbins are then curled up around nailed pins. This lace is used with different types of cloth, such as sheets, pillow-slips, but also entire pieces like centrepieces, table cloths, naperons, etc..

Baubles, also known as purl lace, are made directly with the fingers, using what is called a shuttle, in linen cloth or felt. This hand motion results in various pieces such as shirt collars, napkin rings, bases of cups and trays, final year student ribbons, scented pillows, soap-dishes, tissue bags, etc.. For this technique, you start by inserting the line in the needle eye, which then goes around the fingers in the left hand, working the right hand with the shuttle. The needle keeps going back to the left hand, thus forming a buttonhole stitch through which the desired piece takes shape. As for the famous bauble canvas, it is executed by gluing the pieces already embroidered with the help of small sharply-beaked scissors.


© 2009 Câmara Municipal de Nisa