Today we're meeting up with Nuno Henriques, the owner of Portugal-based brand Toino Abel. A family business to the core, Toino Abel was founded by Nuno's great grandfather, a farmer who delivered his famous reed baskets by "cow and cart" from rural Castanheira throughout Portugal. Nuno writes:
"My great grandfather employed many people in Castanheira, all working in the production of baskets. After my great grandfather died, his son (my granduncle) took over the business. And after his death it was continued by my grandaunt who is still overlooking the production of baskets today. However, nowadays the business is very small and the staff only consists of six people. All of the employees are old and have worked for the company for many decades. They are handcrafting the baskets in the same traditional technique of the time of my great grandfather."
Each basket is lovingly crafted by hand, start to finish. Nuno explains the process:
"Our baskets are made in the same old technique as in the beginning of last century. Great changes have taken place since then but they have not altered our manufacturing process. In fact, we still dye the reed in a wood fire and changes occurred in our process are as tenuous as the use of electric light in our loom which allows us to work longer in winter.
Every step of our fabrication is entirely done by hand. Cidália Ricardo and Emília Pimenta are responsible for working the reed. They cut the reed sticks with an ax into bunches of equal size, clean with soap and let them dry. Afterwards the reed is whitened by burning sulphur process. Since not all reed sticks become brighter Cidália selects each stick, one by one, in order to separate those who remained dark. Those darker pieces are then dyed with colour pigments.
Once these steps are performed, they weave the reed on a hand loom in a variety of patterns just as a tapestry is made. Actually, it was also common to fabricate long mats exactly in the same technique and materials. Those rugs are not made in our workshop for more than 60 years.
When the work on the loom is ready the finished parts are being stitched together in the form of a bag. Finally, the handles of the baskets are made of willow branches that are bound and fastened onto the baskets."
Learn more about the historic process and see Nuno's latest work at www.toinoabel.com.