Embroidery is part of Madeira’s history and culture and was originally introduced by the English Phelps family who settled in Madeira in 1784. It all started with the eldest daughter of Joseph Phelps, Elizabeth who in 1854 established a small school in her home and with her original designs taught children and women to embroider. These embroideries were initially sold privately to family friends then later to tourists. They became popular and sought-after in Madeira Island as a result of an exhibition held in Funchal and subsequently won awards at the International World Trade Exhibition in London.
By the 1860’s embroidery was already a long-established industry. It was estimated that there were around 70,000 women embroiderers (bordadeiras) at that time in Madeira.
The fabrics used in the embroidery industry are Linen, Silk, Organdy and Cotton from which tablecloths, dresses, shirts, bed sheets and delicate handkerchiefs are created.
Madeira embroidery factories are located around Funchal but most of the actual embroidery is carried out traditionally, at home by the many women skilled in this practice.
The factories usually supply the materials to the embroiders, then when the embroidery is returned to them, they complete final phase, sale and export all over the world.
The designs use both traditional and modern patterns that are lightly printed as a guide directly onto the fabric. The printed fabric is distributed along with the colourful thread to embroiders all around the islands of Madeira and Porto Santo. In the final phase, the hand made embroidery is completed then returned to the factory where the work is verified, cut, washed and pressed ending with a final check and stamp which guaranties its quality and perfection. Only then is it ready to be sold or exported. Madeira embroidery has won many prizes and awards a recent award being the 2007 edition of the “New York Home Textile” event.
Today Madeira’s finest and delicate hand made embroidery is a souvenir sought by many tourists, admired for its beauty and perfection; a treasure that lasts several generations.