Las Hilanderas Studio, El Paso

Discover the last remaining studio in Europe producing silk using a completely artisan method, for use in clothing manufacturing.

La Palma is the most north-westerly island of the Canary Islands. Steep, beautiful, high, rocky, or surprising are just some of the adjectives used to justify its nickname: The Beautiful Island. In 2002, the island was declared a world biosphere reserve.

Hilanderas de El Paso trabajando en el tallerCámaras de Comercio de Canarias

El Paso, quintessential silk town

The ancient handicrafts of La Palma are kept alive in Las Hilanderas studio in El Paso, a quintessential silk town. Run by Carmen Díaz, it is the last bastion in Europe managing the whole silk production process with a completely artisan method.

Hilanderas de El Paso trabajando en el tallerCámaras de Comercio de Canarias

The studio's aims are to rigorously protect this art form, as well as develop its production with the incorporation of new designs, to establish silk from El Paso within the most important crafts circuits.

Hilanderas de El Paso trabajando en el tallerCámaras de Comercio de Canarias

Las Hilanderas studio in El Paso is housed on the first floor of the Silk Museum and functions as a live museum. It includes a working craft studio to complement the historical exhibition found on the upper levels of the building.

Hilanderas de El Paso trabajando en el tallerCámaras de Comercio de Canarias

A historical profession

The silk industry was of great economic importance to the island from the 16th century, when textile techniques of the period were introduced following the union with the Crown of Castile.

Hilanderas de El Paso trabajando en el tallerCámaras de Comercio de Canarias

Carmen Díaz
00:00

“Our production processes are exactly the same as they were at that time. We use the same rudimentary tools, the same techniques, and the same dyes. There has been no modernization.”

Museo de la Seda de El PasoCámaras de Comercio de Canarias

A great deal of silk and embroidery was exported from La Palma to mainland Spain and to Flanders, where the port maintained regular commercial traffic with Santa Cruz de La Palma. These products held enormous prestige in Europe until fashions changed in the 18th century.

Hilanderas de El Paso trabajando en el tallerCámaras de Comercio de Canarias

Although dedication to the profession has fluctuated over time, the tradition has been upheld in La Palma with minimal divergence, rooted within the core of a few families.

Hilanderas de El Paso trabajando en el tallerCámaras de Comercio de Canarias

Carmen Díaz
00:00

“Thanks to all those who have persevered with our tradition, our culture, and our heritage, the silk industry has been preserved to this day. I have taken over to try to maintain and perpetuate that.”

Museo de la Seda de El PasoCámaras de Comercio de Canarias

Knowledge passed down through generations

Carmen learned the art of spinning from her teacher, Bertila Pérez González. This master of silk, who had learned the skill from her mother, was part of the last family on the island who possessed the knowledge of this craft, and fought to keep it alive.

Hilanderas de El Paso trabajando en el tallerCámaras de Comercio de Canarias

Carmen Díaz
00:00

“I learned because as a young girl I would go to my teacher's house and I would see how her mother worked, how she moved the threads, and it seemed like something from a fairytale; it was a marvel to me. I'm talking about when I was five years old.”

Productos del taller de Las Hilanderas El PasoCámaras de Comercio de Canarias

Carmen's early memories never left her and, as soon as she had the chance, she started to learn the skill with Bertila, her teacher, who ended up helping her occasionally with her work.

Productos del taller de Las Hilanderas El PasoCámaras de Comercio de Canarias

In 2001, she opened Las Hilanderas studio with three partners. One of them was the daughter of her teacher, Blanca García, who she met when they were both instructors in a studio school. Carmen now runs the studio by herself.

Hilanderas de El Paso trabajando en el tallerCámaras de Comercio de Canarias

16th-century looms and tools

The pedal looms on which Carmen and her four co-workers make the silk garments are identical to those introduced by the conquistadors during the 16th century. They are made of wood and have a variable number of heddles (between two and four). The latest model dates from the year 1860.

Hilanderas de El Paso trabajando en el tallerCámaras de Comercio de Canarias

With these looms, the weaver uses the shuttle to pass the thread between the rows of the warp, controlling the flow as required, compacting it, and weaving. This is how the sheer and shiny material we know is created.

Hilanderas de El Paso trabajando en el tallerCámaras de Comercio de Canarias

The tools used to make the silk have not changed over the centuries either. According to Carmen: “You can't do without any of them because that would alter the desired texture of the products.”

Hilanderas de El Paso trabajando en el tallerCámaras de Comercio de Canarias

Carmen Díaz
00:00

“Each thread goes through 12 or 14 different manipulations. Each of the processes requires a different tool, all of which are old and rudimentary. We work with wood and cane; there are no screws.”

Productos del taller de Las Hilanderas El PasoCámaras de Comercio de Canarias

Leaving fast fashion behind

Carmen's studio decided to make clothing including skirts, throws, shawls, ties, and bow ties. A complete catalog of items made from the most exquisite raw material.

Productos del taller de Las Hilanderas El PasoCámaras de Comercio de Canarias

Carmen Díaz
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“We're lucky that everything we make, we sell, but I should also point out that one garment can take us two months to make. It isn't economically viable at all, but our clients are happy to wait because they know that in the end they will receive a gem.”

Productos del taller de Las Hilanderas El PasoCámaras de Comercio de Canarias

The visitors that come to the museum and explore the studio "are so taken with it that if they don't buy anything there and then, they place an order." Local islanders also come to the studio when they need a unique gift; something that is only made there.

Museo de la Seda de El PasoCámaras de Comercio de Canarias

Garments made at the studio have been worn by well-known European politicians, nobel prize-winners, and the Spanish royal family. The studio has also collaborated with the designer Ágatha Ruiz de la Prada, who presented a silk dress at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Weekend 2019/20.

Hilanderas de El Paso trabajando en el tallerCámaras de Comercio de Canarias

An inspiring future

Carmen remains optimistic when looking to the future. For starters, it seems that the profession has piqued the interest of younger generations, as demonstrated by the two young girls working at her studio: her own daughter, and another disciple of her teacher, Bertila.

Hilanderas de El Paso trabajando en el tallerCámaras de Comercio de Canarias

Carmen Díaz
00:00

“I strongly believe that this tradition won't be lost, and it will be increasingly valued as a different way of life. We are in a period of regression, placing value on what we used to have, and I am seeing definite enthusiasm.”

Taller de las Hilanderas El PasoCámaras de Comercio de Canarias

In 2019, the weavers received the Gold Medal of the Canaries (Medalla de Oro de Canarias), a recognition to applaud the craftsmanship of these women and their predecessors, who are preserving a tradition that in its time was of vital importance to the economy of the Canary Islands.

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