The handicraft products of Faial are as lovely as the island itself. There are fine and delicate straw embroideries on tulle, flowers made from fish scales, towels and other decorations in cut paper, the artistic crochet lace-work that is so characteristic in its motifs and delicate transparency. Or the straw hats that last years of sun and rain, the most aristocratic top-hat of bright, firm straw, recalling elegant country fashions of times gone by, the purses of woven straw with decorative cords and the wickerwork.
The Delicate and Unique Art of Fig-Tree Wood
Probably originating in the skilful hands of nuns in convent cloisters, the art of turning fig-tree wood into wonderful miniatures has been practiced in Faial since the middle of the l9th century. Its main master was Euclides Rosa, who transformed fig-tree wood into the delicate and marvelous pieces that are the pride of the Horta Museum. Cut into thin, transparent strips with much skill and patience and minimal glue, the fig-tree wood gives rise to houses and windmills, flowers and animals, ships and delicate and fragile figures.
The Scrimshaw Tradition
It was the rough sailors of the whalers of yore who brought to the Faial the technique of carving designs on whale’s teeth: the ivory of the sea. Designs such as ships with their sails full, tempting sirens and whale hunting scenes are typical. The whalers have gone but the difficult art of scrimshaw has remained in Faial. Hard-working and skilful craftsmen, using centuries-old techniques, record on valuable, rare whale’s teeth the adventurous atmosphere of a past that is ever more distant, recalled with imagination and art.
The Unusual “Capote-e-Capelo”
A large cape that covered a woman’s figure, allowing only a glimpse of her face, the origin of the “capote-e-capelo” is controversial. Some say that it came from Flanders and others state that it is an adaptation of mantles and cowls that were fashionable in Portugal in the 17th and 18th centuries. Regardless, for centuries the “capote-e-capelo” was a typically Azorean woman’s garment used in Faial. Varying from island to island in the cut of the cape and the arrangement of the cowl, Faial had the extravagant shape of a wedge resting on the shoulders and which jutted out in front for over a palm. The common characteristic of the “capote-e-capelo” was that it was made of a strong, heavy electric-blue cloth that lasted for generations and was handed down from mothers to daughters. The women of the Azores stopped wearing the “capote-e-capelo” around the 1930’s.