Collaborating with Essential Lisboa since 2004 , i watched the arrival of the magazines' 50th edition with pride. In this issue, my contribution was with an article (after a visit to their factory) about one of the finest rug manufacturers in Portugal, Tapeçarias Ferreira de Sá:
Woven in Tradition
Founded in 1946, the Ferreira de Sá company remains one of Portugal's greatest names in fine carpets.
Hanging predominantly at the entrance of the building, the portrait of Joaquim Ferreira de Sá proudly watches over the day-to-day running of the factory that he founded in 1946. Now run by his granddaughter Fernanda Barbosa, Tapeçarias Ferreira de Sá (TFS) has recaptured its former glory by investing in quality materials and maintaining traditional production methods. “When the third generation joined Ferreira de Sá, our biggest client was a big hypermarket chain, so we were really mass-producing rugs. We got rid of all those machines and picked up where my grandfather left off,” the current owner proudly states, surrounded by colourful rug samples.
Located in a discreet factory on the outskirts of Espinho, Tapeçarias Ferreira de Sá is living proof that investing in cultural heritage is the right way to go in a market dominated by mass production but where more and more niches are emerging, in which quality, personalisation, traditional production methods and pedigree are valued. Having acquired the collection of designs from the old Beiriz factory in 1971, TFS is the pioneer in the tradition of the 'Beiriz Stitch', or the Portuguese stitch as it's called today.
“We don't call everything the Beiriz Stitch... it's a stitch made with a manual knot and an unmistakable technique, but as there's been a lot of confusion on the market because of the name, we decided to call it the Portuguese stitch. We have three generations' worth of experience in the tapestry field and that makes all the difference; we know what we're doing,”
explains Fernanda Barbosa about the long battle they have had with a rival to defend this important heritage in national manufacturing. Showing us the impressive collection of designs comprising a huge amount of patterns, this important series has been revisited on various occasions, with a highlight being the project at Vidago Palace Hotel, for which they developed rugs for the rooms, stairways, the Four Seasons drawing room and the Salão Nobre dining room, which boasts an impressive 9x26-metre rug.
Despite the many projects in the hotel field in Portugal and working with some national sales points such as the Interforma stores, most of Tapeçarias Ferreira de Sá's clients are from abroad, being that “sometimes the entire monthly profits are from exports”. With a portfolio comprising big names like the Vitra Design Museum, the Mercedes-Benz Museum, the Willet-Holthuysen Museum in Amsterdam and some Dior stores in the Far East, among others, TFS was recently hired by the Dutch parliament in The Hague to create a 40-metre long carpet. “The Dutch had a traditional factory in which they made rugs that were very similar to the Beiriz stitch. As there was no longer anyone in Holland who worked with this technique, they did some research on an international scale and found that we still did this stitch,” reveals Fernanda. Alongside these projects where personalisation is a key factor, TFS also produces rugs for other brands – “we will soon be receiving the representatives of a well-known French design brand to become the producers of their collection of rugs” – as well as its own Orbi collection, designed by Carlota Verde, and working with famous designers and architects like Siza Vieira and Frank Gehry. “After working with the architect Siza Vieira to make a collection of rugs, his colleague and friend Frank Gehry saw the result and decided to contact us to make his own line.”
Although the design is an important component in the Ferreira de Sá creations, it's in the factory that you can feel the heart of this brand with more than six decades of history. In an environment filled with wool of the most varied of colours (TFS works with 150 shades), the artisans begin a new project on the manual loom. With the design as a reference, each grid corresponds to a knot, and the hands with decades of experience move swiftly as the workers chat. Beside them, an old machine cuts pieces of wool with which the tapestry is produced.
“Here at Ferreira de Sá, contrary to other brands, our rugs with the Beiriz stitch have less height which makes them more resistant. I know it's easier for artisans to make knots with longer wool, but they like the work they do and TFS presents a product of a higher quality,”
emphasises Fernanda. However, she admits that it's getting increasingly harder to find new people who want to learn these traditional techniques. Besides the hand-knotting and weaving, Ferreira de Sá also makes hand-tufted rugs, produced in huge vertical looms. Using scaffolds with mechanical lifting, the artisans use their guns to draw the patterns outlined by the designers with wool. Once tufted, the rug undergoes the final treatment with latex, with the completed pieces then rolled up on large tables. As they leave the factory, a group of workers carefully cleans up the loose threads left on the rug, showing the level of organisation and attention to detail at TFS.
Under the management of Fernanda Barbosa, Tapeçarias Ferreira de Sá has not only managed to maintain the legacy and tradition of the brand, but also adapt to current market demands in an exemplary manner, ensuring it remains one of the best brands of tapestries made right here in Portugal.