THE ORIGINS OF THE CAPUCHA
The origins of the capucha
2013 / research / capuchas / CRAFTS / PORTUGUESE Tradition / TEXTILES
As soon as we see the "capucha" we fall for its simplicity and versatility of wear and uses. The capucha is a traditional Portuguese cape worn by shepherds and farmers that by simply resting on the head allows for complete freedom of movement for outdoor work, while shielding its wearer from the cold and rain.
ITS ORIGINS ARE NOT VERY CLEAR. IT IS BELIEVED TO HAVE BEEN BROUGHT BY THE ARABS THAT OCCUPIED THE LAND THAT IS NOW PORTUGAL BETWEEN THE 7TH AND 13TH CENTURIES. THE GEOMETRIC PATTERN ON THE EDGE OF THE CAPE IS REMINISCENT OF THE CONFIGURATION OF THE EGYPTIAN "CALANTICA". THE CELEBRATED VEIL OF ISIS AT THE VATICAN MUSEUM WAS ADOPTED BY ARAB WOMEN IN LINE WITH THE TRADITION OF THE PHARAOHS AND WAS LATER APPROPRIATED BY CHRISTIANITY AS THE MANTLE THAT COVERS MOST SAINTS AND PARTICULARLY THE VIRGIN MARY.
The capucha is an exceptional item of great geometric precision as it stretches over half a circumference. This perfection of form is achieved through a half-moon cut, with which the capucha is finished. Inserting a second slot allows the capucha to fit around the head. Its length can vary, and the most common, which is below the thigh, is based on the metre rule that was used as a measure for cutting cloth.
People's needs and the versatility of the item led to it being used in a variety of ways. Hung over the head or drawn together on stormy days it's a cape. Folded and refolded it becomes a seat or a cushion to take a load off. Rolled up from end to end it's a sack to wrap around a bundle of clothes or a load of cabbages. It’s a face covering to hide and protect from Carnival revellers. Flap it and it roars to scare away wolves. It's a blanket to lay over grass or on a bed. With its ends tucked in against the chest it becomes a papoose allowing the mother to carry a baby with her hands free.
CAPUCHAS ARE USUALLY MADE OF "BUREL", A TRADITIONAL PORTUGUESE 100% WOOL FABRIC THAT AFTER IT IS WOVEN IS FULLED IN WATER, WHICH THICKENS IT AND MAKES IT WATERPROOF. ALTHOUGH CAPUCHAS ARE NOW INCREASINGLY RARE, CENTURIES OF HISTORY PERFECTED THEIR SHAPE AND FABRIC AND TURNED IT INTO BOTH A FUNCTIONAL AND REFINED OBJECT. WE BELIEVE THIS IS AN ITEM THAT SHOULDN’T BE FORGOTTEN.
WE STARTED WORKING, AS AN ACADEMIC RESEARCH PROJECT, WITH TEXTILE DESIGNER HELENA CARDOSO AND THE ARÕES ARTISAN GROUP, TO BRING THE VILLAGE CAPUCHAS TO THE WORLD.
OUR ARTISANS’ KNOWLEDGE OF WORKING WITH BUREL FOR SEVERAL GENERATIONS INVOLVES CUTTING, EMBROIDERING AND SEWING WITH BUREL. THEY UNDERSTAND THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PARTICULAR CLOTH, WHICH IS HARDWEARING AND FUNCTIONAL AND CAN BE CUT AND SHAPED AND EMBROIDERED IN NUMEROUS WAYS, AS ITS STIFFNESS MEANS IT DOESN’T NEED TO BE SEWN OR HEMMED.
Find out more about burel here.
The traditional capucha model was kept close to the original, although some details were reconsidered for greater comfort and to adapt to modern life. A drop at the shoulders allows the capucha to be worn without the hood just by resting on the shoulders. The hood was cut to frame the face and make it more visible. The arm slits allow the cape to be drawn together, keeping the arms free. In the ladies’ model, the asymmetric cut makes the piece lighter and balances its shape when the capucha is closed. Both models have an inside pocket.
The knowledge of cutting and embroidering burel and the belief we have in the contemporary relevance of this cape has made way for the rebirth of one of the oldest items of Portuguese clothing, continuing the tradition not just of the object itself, but also the technique of manually inventing capuchas.
discover the new capuchas here.
THE ORIGINS OF THE CAPUCHA