5th Industry, History and Heritage Meeting
Wool Museum, Covilhã – 6, 7 and 8 April 2022
The 5th Industry, History and Heritage Meeting took place on 6, 7 and 8 April 2022 at the Wool Museum of the University of Beira Interior, in Covilhã. This event was organised by Fórum Indústria, História, Património (Industry, History and Heritage Forum), by História, Territórios e Comunidade (History, Territories and Community), a branch of the School of Social Sciences and Humanities of Nova University of Lisbon, and by the Centre for Functional Ecology – Science for People & the Planet of the University of Coimbra, in partnership with the Wool Museum of the University of Beira Interior, the Covilhã City Council and LabCom/UBI.
The communications presented addressed topics related to the history of this industry, with special focus on the communities that were, directly or indirectly, related to the industrialisation processes. The programme also included guided tours of the industrial heritage of Covilhã, the inauguration of the photo exhibition ‘Património da Covilhã. Um outro olhar’ (Covilhã’s Heritage. A different look), by Manuel F. Rodrigues and the presentation of an ebook with some of the papers presented at the 4th Industry, History and Heritage Meeting.
The Mértola Museum and the Oficina de Tecelagem (Weaving Workshop) were represented with a communication by Lígia Rafael, ‘A tecelagem tradicional das mantas de lã de Mértola. Como assegurar a continuidade do saber-fazer?’ (The traditional weaving of the woollen blankets of Mértola. How to ensure the continuity of the know-how?), whose summary is presented below. Present at the Meeting were Technician Guilhermina Bento, Weaver Maria de Fátima Mestre and Apprentice Weaver Nazaré Fabião.
The traditional weaving of the woollen blankets of Mértola. How to ensure the continuity of the know-how? – Summary
The traditional weaving of the woollen blankets of Mértola currently represents the survival of what was once a necessity, a way of earning a living and helping the family to survive. Some fifty years ago, the profession of weaver was characterised by an accumulation of works to be sold in the fairs of the region and by rushing to meet the many orders. Today, few weavers remain, and the production is aimed mainly at a public that wants to have in its home a piece that represents the memory of this know-how: the woollen blanket went from being a functional object to being a decorative piece.
The intense and complex work of preparing the wool, carried out in several stages, is essential to the quality of the fabric. This work was carried out or closely followed by the weaver herself, since it was the only way to guarantee the quality of her work and maintain her reputation in the community. The production of woollen fabric depends on the loom, a complex piece of equipment that requires knowledge and understanding of all its components. By fixing a set of parallel yarns (warp), this instrument allows other yarns (weft) to be threaded to make the fabric, which can be plain or feature complex decorative motifs.
The museum unit of the Weaving Workshop allows visitors to see this work in situ and to understand the functionality of the objects on display and in use, representative of the memory of an ancient activity that has survived to the present day. However, the evolution of society, the difficulties inherent to maintaining traditional production methods and the problems of depopulation and desertification of the inland regions of Portugal, have led to a point where the continuity of this work is at stake. Issues related to continuity are mainly related to the non-existence of master weavers and the lack of interest of young people in embracing a traditional craft as a way of life.
This is the great challenge we are currently facing and which already existed 4 decades ago, when the first survey on this traditional activity was carried out. It was then decided that a Cooperative would be created, with the main objective of training and defining a strategy that would allow continuity in the medium and long term. This was also the aim behind the creation of the museum unit of the Weaving Workshop, integrated into the Mértola Museum. After 40 years, the question of continuity becomes even more critical: All new woollen blankets of Mértola come from the hands of two weavers, both over 60 years old. The urgency and the difficulties inherent to this situation have led to a debate involving the community and local institutions, which, led by the City Council, have developed efforts to outline a common strategy that allows the preservation and continuity of this traditional know-how.