Throughout history, the Canary Island date palm has been used as a raw material to produce all kinds of everyday objects: from baskets, hats and bags to brooms, lamps and bottle holders. Because the art of basketry has deep roots in the Canary Islands, and has been handed down from generation to generation by their artisans.
Palm trees, the origin of Canarian basketry
The leaves of the Canary Island date palm are the raw material for most of the archipelago’s artisans. The pírgano, the name by which islanders refer to the central stalk of the leaf, is the main feature of Canarian basketry. The palmettos, which are used to make articles like hats, and moulds for cheese-making known as empleitas, grow out of it.
Pírganos were also used as a rod for guiding livestock, and in Canarian homes as a broomstick. But the creativity and skill of master artisans have also made it an indispensable element in the creation of basketry items and decorative objects.
The artisanal work process
Master artisans make the products from the palm leaves which they gather or buy in the palm groves of the Canary Islands. They wait until the time of year when the leaves are green and flexible.
One of the first steps consists of allowing the pírgano to dry in the sun, and then stripping away the palmetto leaves. It is important to ensure that the skin of the pírgano is not raised during this process, so that the end product is more robust. The leaves are dampened in water to make them easier to plait. For baskets, the artisans start working on the base and shape them as they raise the sides.
Traditional palm leaf basketry items
While there is a wide range of products that can be made from the Canary Island date palm leaves, each individual artisan tends to specialise in one in particular, bestowing their own personal touch to it.
Most basketry articles were traditionally used to transport foodstuffs or other items. For example, it was customary to use baskets to store freshly-baked bread, as hampers for transporting grapes during the grape harvest, or to load up fish after a long day at sea. Today, we can find all kinds of objects made using the leaves of the Canary Island date palm, such as flowerpot holders or even colanders for the popular wrinkly potatoes.
The “sombrera”, or hat of La Graciosa
One of the most significant objects is the traditional hat of La Graciosa, which is also called a “sombrera”. It is usually handmade by “las sombrereras”, the female artisans of the island of La Graciosa who got their skills from their mothers or grandmothers. A very authentic product, made with loving care, and a practical way of protecting oneself from the sun.
Décor and fashion accessories with Canarian character
Beyond the classic function of basketry, fashion accessories and décor items with a pronouncedly Canarian personality are also made in the traditional workshops. As well as the typical hats from La Graciosa, we can find bags, lamps, rugs and other objects that retain the charm of handmade items.