Old crafts | Esparto grass

Other trades of historical importance can still be discovered, at least, in medieval markets such as the one in Teulada or one of the numerous craft markets in the region.

Among them, without a doubt, is the production of wickerwork, textiles and fine objects made of esparto grass. The stubborn, hard grass grows throughout the southern Mediterranean region and was traditionally used for baskets, shoes, hats, bags, ropes, (fishing) nets and more. Even the fascinatingly creepy, extremely ornate Mussona Carnival costumes are made of esparto grass. There is hardly an area of life in which esparto grass has not been used in some form. The regions around Valencia, Murcia and Granada in Andalusia were strongholds: from professional cultivation to processing and the manufacture of wickerwork from esparto grass.

It has been used for thousands of years. Prehistoric finds from the Cueva de los Murciélagos in Albuñol prove that people have been using esparto grass for at least 7000 years to make more than just textiles and shoes.

In order to keep the traditional craft alive, old braid- ing masters and interested laymen have joined forces to form the „Amigos del Esparto“. Every year, on August 7, the „Día del Esparto“ is celebrated in Águilas, where braiding masters demonstrate the old craft. The city was one of the most important centers of esparto grass processing, with 30 factories. Alone, 12 factories dealt exclusively with the crushing of esparto grass. There were 21 stoves to „boil“ esparto grass with sea- water, an important operation that made the spinning of the grass possible. Since 2019, the first Esparto Grass Museum has also opened in Águilas, offering a wide-ranging insight into production, craftsmanship and the culture and tradition associated with it.

The cultivation, the preparatory work for the process- ing of the grass, the manufacture of a wide variety of products, transport and export of esparto semi-finished products and products developed into a successful industry in the 19th century, in which even the British eventually invested. In 1837, a patent was registered in Great Britain for the production of paper from esparto grass. At a time when more and more paper was needed, but at the same time it was becoming scarce due to a lack of raw materials (rags), paper production from esparto grass represented an important innovation. Consequently, access to the coveted raw material was secured.

Today, esparto grass processing occupies only a niche, as plastic fibers and plastic products have largely replaced it. In times when plastic and its effects on nature and humans are being viewed more and more critically and, for example, the lost fishing nets made of plastic in the oceans are becoming deadly traps for fish and marine mammals, esparto grass could per- haps face a renaissance in the future after all.

In addition, old crafts can be an almost endless source of inspiration for innovative new developments for technology and material scouts.


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