Spanish Grass or Esparto

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The terracotta floor was down and the grouting done. The Spanish chap threw me a bunch of light brown strands of hay like material and suggested this will clean it up best – he wasn’t wrong.

Spanish grass as durable and flexible as the skilled craftsmen that work it and turn it into superb and highly desirable products that not only have a purpose are aesthetically pleasing to have in the home

Spanish grass or Esparto is one of the products that made the world go round for thousands of years and has almost disappeared today but the old skills are still remembered In Spain’s only Esparto grass museum in Murcia alongside skilled craftsmen keeping this artisan work alive.

Esparto is a type of grass that grows wild on the hillsides all along the Spanish coast and its tough, flexible fibres were used from ancient times to make shoes, belts, baskets, fans, paper, mats and thousands of other things.

 

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Historically one of the most important things made from Esparto was the ropes used by sailing ships.

Decades ago hundreds of people were employed in the esparto industry and the first stage is to gatherer the grass on the steep Spanish hillsides – no easy task especially in the baking summer months.

A palillo, a metal spiked hand loop pulls the fibres from the ground and wraps them together.

Next, it was stacked in heaps to dry out in the sun and then soaked in large ponds for up to 40 days to allow for chemical changes in the fibre, after this it was pulled out and stacked to dry again.

Now it was ready to be pulverised using a huge wooden mallet over a tree stump or two timber beams which were belt driven in a factory.

The next stage was to comb the fibres through with metal rakes a process that proved hazardous to the health of the workers causing espartosis from airborne fibres.

The fibres were then spun into threads and woven together into bands spun into 15m length cables ropes for shipping.

 

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Esparto today has been replaced by modern materials like plastics to make most of the heavy industry products. In Murcia craftsmen still, keep this process alive by making household products.

The name espadrille is French and comes from the Catalan name for the shoes, espardenya, the name for esparto, or Spanish grass. There are still shops in the Basque country making espadrilles that go back a century. Traditionally espadrilles are worn by men and women. In Aragón espadrilles are called “alpargatas”.

The museum is at c/Pablo Iglesias 53 Cieza northern Murcia

All photographs with this article are being used with kind permission from Señor Jesús María Quintero Gómez – http://www.esparte.es

 

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