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The rush bags of Castanheira

The rush bags of Castanheira.

In March, we made discover the culture of the Portuguese rush and its transformation to the journalists of the television channel France 5 in order to prepare a report for the program "Silence, ça pousse!

The craftsmen of the village of Castanheira opened all the doors of their region, of their village and made us discover their traditions and their extraordinary knowledge to make since the culture and the collection of the rush until their magnificent bags while passing by the stages of drying, transformation, weaving, assembly...

Thanks to Nuno, son of the village, a former computer scientist who has returned to his roots, a whole region and a group of craftsmen have found a new activity by reviving ecological, ethical and surprisingly modern bags.

The culture of rush

Culture du jonc pour sacs en osier au Portugal
Field of rushes - Credit Luisa Paixão


The rush is a perennial plant that grows naturally in a humid environment in the form of large clumps that can reach 1.5 meters in height.

Its stems were first used to provide a rudimentary lighting system. They were dipped in animal fat which was then left to harden to obtain a kind of candle. Later, more than 10,000 years ago, some species of rush were used in basketry.

In Portugal, there is no cultivation of rushes as such. It grows naturally in marshes and all wetlands. It is enough to wait for its maturity to harvest it.

No fertilizers, no treatments, no inputs, no depletion of the earth, here nature is respected and the landscapes remain beautiful.

The harvest of the rush

This respect for nature has a consequence: harvesting rushes is a thankless, difficult and tedious task. Nothing is mechanized, the harvest is done by hand, using a rudimentary tool that is thousands of years old: the pickaxe. It is then necessary to accept to put on waders and to venture into the marshy zones.

Cueillette du jonc dans la région du Ribatejo au Portugal
Rush checking - Credit Luisa Paixão


The rush used by the craftsmen of the village of Castanheira is harvested in the region of Ribatejo, in the North East of Lisbon. The harvest is done by some farmers who combine several jobs to continue to live from their work in their region.

The preparation of the rush stems

After harvesting, the rush stems are put to dry naturally in a dryer for a minimum of six months. At the end of these 6 months, they are sorted to eliminate the attacked or branchy strands then formed into bundles before being graded by length and size.

Séchage de l'osier dans la région du Ribatejo au Portugal
Bundling before drying - Credit Luisa Paixão


The stems can then receive their treatment which will give them a more uniform aspect or on the contrary will give them a bright color.

Tiges de jonc séchées pour la vannerie traditionnelle portugaise
Rush after drying and treatment - Credit Luisa Paixão

Tiges de jonc colorées pour la fabrication de sacs en osier
Rush after drying and treatment - Credit Luisa Paixão

The weaving of the rush

The stems of rush, assembled in bundles of colors, are then transferred to the weaving workshop where the women of the village start to work. The loom, rudimentary, is an old tool that is probably over 100 years old.

Here too, no mechanization, no noisy electric loom, the weaving is done in a form of serenity sometimes interrupted by the discussions and laughter of the craftsmen.

Métier à tisser le jonc traditionnel portugais
Weaving machine - Credit Luisa Paixão


Tissage du jonc pour la fabrication de sacs en vannerie
Weaving machine - Credit Luisa Paixão


Vannerie traditionnelle portugaise
Weaving machine - Credit Luisa Paixão


Artisans vanniers portugais du Ribatejo
Weaving machine - Credit Luisa Paixão

The assembly and finishing of the rush bags

Then the operations of assembly and finishing of the bags remain: assembly of the various elements, making of the handles and hinges, visual inspection and affixing of the small logo of the village.

Assembly and finishing  - Credit Luisa Paixão

The rush bag, an ecological product

An agricultural region in the heart of Portugal provides rushes every year without the use of fertilizers, inputs or chemicals of any kind.

The harvesting is done by hand with a tool as old as the world: the serp; without any mechanization. The manufacturing process uses no motor, no energy other than the muscles.

Natural rush bag - Luisa Paixão collection

The rush bag, an ethical product

The tradition of basketry and rush weaving is an old tradition of the Ribatejo region. This tradition had been lost, as the objects produced had fallen into disuse. Nuno's genius idea was to abandon his craft, redesign the bags he produced and give them a modern touch. Word of mouth did the rest.

It is today a whole village which finds an activity and more than an activity: the workshop is in the center of the village, in front of a small business acting as a coffee shop, a grocery store, a post office, it is a lively place, meeting place of all the craftsmen who take part in the manufacture of bags.

Multicolored rush bag - Luisa Paixão collection

The rush bag, a trendy product

Today, everyone wants his wicker bag, raffia or rush. The rush bag has become a trendy object, a fashion accessory sought by the most famous brands.

Red rush bag - Luisa Paixão collection

To be continued...

To discover soon, the report broadcast on France 5 in the program "Silence ça pousse".

Reportage France 5 au Portugal

Emission TV Silence ça pousse au Portugal

Emission TV Silence ça pousse sur la fabrication de sacs en jonc

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