7 Traditional Portuguese Handicrafts to discover
Traditional Portuguese handicrafts have always been a symbol of Portugal’s culture and history. With traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation, these handmade artefacts reflect the unique identity of each region of Portugal.
The majority of these handicrafts originated in rural areas, where local materials widely available were transformed to create different objects. Some to meet daily necessities, such as cooking or working in the agricultural fields, others simply to add more colour and joy to everyday life.
In the past, most of the Portuguese artisans who crafted these beautiful forms of art could not even read or write. But from their skilled hands, natural elements were transformed into works of art that have stood the test of time.
Today, these century-old techniques are a source of pride for the Portuguese people, with modern-day artisans contributing towards maintaining these traditions alive.
Discover Portugal’s most famous handicrafts
Portugal’s most famous handicrafts include unique forms of embroidery, lace, tapestry, weaving, jewellery, basketry and painted ceramics. Many of these are considered luxury items in Portugal, made of high-quality materials and executed by very talented and experienced artisans.
Some of our favourite hand-made Portuguese arts and crafts include:
1. Tapetes de Arraiolos
These beautiful hand-embroidered rugs are inseparable from the history of Arraiolos, a small town located in the beautiful region of Alentejo, in southern Portugal. Made from cotton canvas and woven with pure wool dyed in different colours, Tapetes de Arraiolos is known for the unique technique associated with them: the cross-stitch.
The tradition of embroidering these beautiful rugs has been a symbol of Arraiolos for centuries, with unique designs that reflect the cultural identity of its people and the styles of each era. These rugs are produced in factories by women. However, at home, the production is done by both men and women.
Reasons to fall in love with Alentejo Portugal
Alentejo is synonymous with slow-living, plenty of sunshine, delicious food & wine, surrounded by endless fields of grain and cobblestone streets of whitewashed houses…
2. Renda de Bilros
In Portugal, the art of weaving bobbin lace, known as “renda de bilros”, is found especially in the fishing villages along the Portuguese coast.
This art form was originally created in the fishing village of Peniche, next to Lisbon. While the men dedicated themselves to fishing and ploughing the fields, women, besides helping in the salting, processing and storage of fish, also worked from home creating delicate pieces of white bobbin lace. The sale of the “rendas de bilros” often complemented the meagre income obtained in the arduous fishing toil.
The bobbin lace is produced over a wooden base topped with a pillow padded with natural materials such as horsehair, sawdust, dried grass or cotton. This cushion supports the work carried out and is covered with a neutral coloured fabric that helps aid the artisan's vision. The lace design is created over a mould with a pattern, which will be followed by each wooden bobbin.
The final result is a beautifully intricate lace piece that, in some households in Portugal, is used for decoration.
3. Reed carry-cots and baskets
Reed carry-cots ("alcofas de junco") and baskets ("cestas de junco") can easily be found throughout Portugal, in different colours, styles and sizes. Even today these baskets are still very popular. Whether to use it as a beach or shopping basket or simply for interior decoration, the possibilities are endless!
In places such as Juncal, in the municipality of Porto de Mós, "alcofas de junco" are so popular that recently this artform was celebrated in a giant sculpture in the village's main roundabout.
The town's name, “Juncal”, actually comes from the Portuguese word “junco”, which means "reeds". It was thanks to the reeds that have always grown generously in this land that the weaving tradition took root, and continues to this day.
4. Clay pottery
Pottery craftsmanship is another form of traditional handicrafts in Portugal that can be easily found in many local markets and souvenir shops throughout the country.
The Alentejo region of Portugal is one of the places where the love for traditional clay pottery is especially present. The designs reflect traditional ways of life in the fields, the colours, flowers and the warmth of the region. Any piece you buy of Alentejo pottery will remind you of what you saw and felt when you were here!
In São Pedro do Corval, located in the heart of the district of Évora and only a few kilometres from Reguengos de Monsaraz, the ancient tradition of pottery mastery is still very much present. This small village currently has Portugal's largest concentration of potteries and one of the largest in the Iberian Peninsula. If you visit São Pedro do Corval, you will find more than twenty potteries of artisan manufacture and can see live master potters still moulding the clay by hand, slowly turning their wheel while sharing their life stories with visitors.
5. Traditional ceramics from Caldas da Rainha
In the Silver Coast of Portugal, Caldas da Rainha is Portugal’s most popular ceramic production centre. Here, you will easily find several markets and beautiful shops where you can buy ceramic items at reasonable prices.
The traditional style of “louça das Caldas”, as it is known, includes colourful and interestingly shaped pieces for both decoration and kitchenware. From simple dinner plates to animal-shaped objects that will add creativity and personality to your home. If you visit Caldas da Rainha, make sure you go to the Bordallo Pinheiro Factory Shop, one of Portugal’s most famous ceramic brands and home to this artist's original Portuguese swallows.
Caldas da Rainha ceramics: a mix of tradition and creativity
The town of Caldas da Rainha, on the Silver Coast of Portugal, is the cradle of one of the most characteristic ceramic styles in Portugal. In the streets and shops, you will find various examples full of colour... and humour!
6. Filigree Jewellery
"Filigrana" is a traditional style of Portuguese jewellery made of very fine wires and tiny metal balls, welded together to create an ornamental design.
This style of jewellery is especially popular in the northern region of Portugal, where pieces of filigree were used in the traditional wedding dress and also in the women's folklore costumes of Minho.
The most popular design is the “Heart of Viana”, initially created for Portuguese queen D. Maria I who, grateful for the blessing of having been granted a male child, had a heart made in gold filigree. Other iconic designs include the "arrecadas" earrings and necklaces with “contas de Viana” (Viana beads).
Regarding prices, these vary greatly, depending on the size and material used, as most pieces are in Portuguese 24-karat gold.
7. Lenço dos namorados
The "lenços dos namorados" (lover's handkerchiefs) are one of the most beautiful examples of traditional Portuguese handicrafts!
Originating in the 18th century, this tradition from the Minho region of Portugal is made of linen or cotton handkerchiefs, colourfully embroidered with floral motifs, love symbols and verses in old-fashioned Portuguese, often with spelling mistakes that reveal the lack of schooling of the young girls who made them in the past.
It was common for a girl in love to embroider her handkerchief and give it to her beloved whenever he went away. Each handkerchief would have verses embroidered on them with different symbolisms, which made each piece unique.
Today, these beautiful patterns can be found on several other Portuguese handicrafts, such as in ceramics, as a tribute to this beautiful tradition!
Next time you visit a traditional handicraft store in Portugal, discover other original pieces and if you have time, the story behind each one!
Podcast - Ceramics in Portugal
In this episode of ‘Portugal The Simple Life Podcast’, Mariana Sampaio, a ceramic artist and the owner of Mariana Sampaio Studio, talks about the history of Portuguese ceramics, why it is such an integral part of Portugal’s culture and what makes this such an interesting art form…