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Interview w/ Filomena Cardoso
— Pico Island Lacemaker

Pico is the second largest island of the Azores archipelago and in 2001 it had a population of 14 806. The lace, typical of this territory, is a type of crochet made with fine cotton thread.

— Is lace your main professional activity? How do you support yourself nowadays?

At the moment it is completely impossible. This was a good financial supplement in the past as, here on the island, income from agriculture wasn’t enough and we could always compensate with lace.

Lace was always an additional source of revenue that helped to pay for travelling between islands, decorations for the Holy Spirit festivities (annual celebrations that take place all over the Azores archipelago, every week from Easter until Pentecost Sunday or Trinity Sunday), among other expenses.

There was a middleman who would buy the lace and sell it across the other islands, in Continental Portugal and so on, like a travelling salesman.

Crafts fairs today are still very important as a means of receiving new orders and creating new contacts.

I have been trying to innovate by creating new formats and designs, by applying to linen or to other individual pieces, large tablecloths, bedsheets and placemats, which I take to the fairs I participate in - when I am able to...

— About the technique

One needs time, concentration and peace of mind.

Our state of mind and the temperature of our hands have a direct impact on the final result of the lace that is being created.

If we are tired, sad or unfocused it can be disastrous since if we fail one point, we have to undo the whole piece, as it cannot be corrected.

Total peace opens up our spirit and even makes way for us to come up with more ideas for new lace.

— What is the history behind Pico Island lace?

It is over 100 years old. Some women from our parish introduced this type of crochet to the island. It is said that it is of Flemish origin.

White or beige lace, also known as “art crochets”.

The CRAA - Centro Regional de Apoio ao Artesanato (Regional Handicraft Support Center) - is the entity that supports and certifies our activity, and this work is very important.

There is also an artisans’ federation, but its support and contact with us is not very significant.

— Do you know how many lacemakers are currently dedicated to this technique?

Around 10, maybe. Aged between 65 and 80.

— Who will carry on this legacy after them?

Well, that I don’t know. The technique stopped being taught at school in handicraft classes, as it was before. All of that ended.

I also learned with the other lacemakers, not only at school.

To make lace is a talent, and I developed it with my mother and grandmother.

And now, I have no one to pass this legacy on to. Perhaps my granddaughter... but she is still too little to understand.

If there is no one to carry this on, it will be impossible to keep the technique alive. Those who could teach it, will no longer be around, and you can't learn this from books. If everything continues as it is, it ends with this generation. This is a craft that is completely at risk.

To like it isn’t enough. You have to have a talent for it. For example, my sister loves lace, but she doesn't have the hands for it.

— What can be done to overcome this?

People value and love the work, but they don’t have time to enjoy the pieces like they had in the past. Today, most celebrations take place outside the home.

Portuguese women used to take pride in decorating their homes with crochet and lace, but that has been lost.

In order to promote and battle against this risk of extinction, we need a physical presence at fairs and stores. This doesn’t work well online.

Handicrafts need to be experienced by hand. All of this involves touch, feeling with your hands. Working “live”, on site, at fairs is also important. It brings further appreciation for our work.

The Ponta Delgada fair goes well (largest municipality of the Azores), and FIA (International Handicraft Fairs, held in Lisbon) can also work out successfully, but none will happen this year due to Covid-19. Neither here nor outside Portugal.

The CRAA supports our applications to international fairs, but I was never able to participate. You need to be available, have good organisational skills and enough stock to show and sell.

— And so who are your clients currently?

Nowadays I work for a few contemporary artists and designers, a crafts fair and I also have a good client in São Miguel (the largest island of the Azores), who pays me by the piece, without consignment.

— What is your take on associating your lace to the work of contemporary artists and designers?

It is a way of promoting the work done in Pico. I love to participate in these projects.

— Do you fear that by associating your work to pieces and people outside your sphere of action, there might be some appropriation of your craft?

By no means! This lace isn’t for everyone. I have no fear of appropriations of the technique because I know that whoever would try it, would never achieve the same result. You need decades and decades to get here, and he or she wouldn’t have the patience.

What is fundamental to me is to maintain the quality. As long as that is kept, I don’t mind associating my work to anyone.

I would be very much interested in working with artists and designers. In fact, I have already been part of a workshop with young fashion designers, and other designers from different areas, promoted by the CRAA.

The designer idealizes, but it is us, the artisans, who create the pattern. The pattern comes from our mind, just like the technique.

But the series must always be a limited edition. Our technique takes too much time.

Interview with Filomena Cardoso
— Pico Island Lacemaker

April 2020


Filomena Cardoso
+351 919 270 069


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