AYCH Creative Residency,

Santo Tirso, Portugal

Creative Residency, Santo Tirso, Portugal, July 2019

I had the opportunity to attend a week long creative residency in Santo Tirso, Porto, Portugal during July which gave me an insight into textile production within one of the key hubs in Portugal, the history of the area and better knowledge of advances within sustainability. I linked up with participants of Createx, which included a fantastic group of girls from Poland, Brazil and Porto and together we attended a selection of informative lectures presented by fashion and textile professionals before being shown a variety of textile mills and companies within the local area to inform us of how the region is coming through a revival thanks to more people becoming interested in the heritage of Porto and wanting to offer their support. There is hope that young people will also become more interested in learning the skills of their ancestors and in turn choose to stay in the area instead of moving to larger cities or abroad. A combination of digital machinery and skilled craftspeople was visible at every factory tour and many were transparent about their commitments to sustainability and were clearly making moves in the right direction, which included stating that many processes don't need a complete overhaul, but rather fine tuning to reduce energy usage and natural resources.

The dates of my residency fitted perfectly with the end of my time of the Cíes Islands, so I took a bus from Vigo, Spain to Porto city and spent a couple of days rejuvenating after camping which gave me a chance to explore the city solo before moving onto my accommodation in the center of Santo Tirso. After finishing the residency each day at 5pm/6pm I was able to explore Porto more with the team of girls from Createx who joined me in celebrating my 25th birthday and as one member, Valeria is a local, gave us all the best insights and a great tour of the city, with the final day spent on the beach before flying home.

Thank you to:

A MASSIVE thank you to all of the team at the Plymouth AYCH Hub for organising everything, connecting me to a great team of creatives and to Luisa, Vera and Nuno at Fábrica de Santo Thyrso for taking care of us all!

Fábrica de Fiação e Tecidos de Santo Thyrso:

Founded in 1989 by three men hailing from Portugal, France and Liverpool Fábrica de Fiação e Tecidos de Santo Thyrso operated at the heart of the Portuguese textile and clothing industry as a working factory specializing in the production of cotton until 1990. Remaining closed for 20 years until its revival and official reopen as a center for creative projects, exhibitions and events, original structural features have been preserved and give an idea of the factories layout. This includes where the dying process took place and beams originally made in Porto, which connected to steam power and looms. Cotton within doors and surfaces made by the factory add a unique touch whilst exterior side mesh across the walls changes when hit by sunlight to reveal brickwork. There is a community garden used by Santo Tirso locals which links the factory to a green space and a museum which depicts the rich history of both production and the surrounding area.

Museu Internacional de Escultura Contemporânea:

 International Museum of Contemporary Sculpture Santo Tirso. Developed since 1990 MIEC is a slowly maturing project that offers a diverse collection of international work both within its building and outside across the city's spaces and gardens.
We had an informative guided tour of the museum, which has been presented within the original monastery which closed in 1934. The artifacts on display have been found in the local area and range from the Roman Empire to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.


MIEC - Internacional Museum of Contemporary Sculpture:
Currently exhibiting: Depois de Marte Fernando Casás. Born in Galicia, Fernando Casás has spent much of his time in Brazil where he has deveoped artwork that 'presents itself as a constant dialog with nature'. His latest exhibition 'After Mars' is on display at MIEC until 8th September 2019 and represents the low decent of the natural word and asks 'if we are ruining earth, will we ruin other planets too?' The collection of organic objects questions 'if we were to populate Mars, what would we have?' -- As well as this, 54 permanent sculptures by international visiting artists can be found around the surrounding city as a way to make art free and open to everybody.

Aldalberto factory tour, textile mill with in-house print designers, Pinto da Silva, Rebordões

A tour of Adalberto Estampados designers of textiles for fashion and home developed for clients located internationally. With over 400 workers Adalberto have developed a system for fabric preparation that saves 60% of water and takes 1 hour rather than a previous 6. The digital printing facilities can print 60 meters per minute and traditional screen printing is monitored constantly but hand and eye to ensure accuracy. Specializing in cotton, polyester and viscose they also offer fabrics that are 100% recycled which are becoming more frequently requested.

What was most interesting to see is how manual the traditional screen printing process is, which can have multiple members of staffing observing the process at one time and ensuring no errors are made. Similarly, the digital process is continually monitored but is far less physically labor intensive. The main office where the original illustrations are made is light and airy, with the majority being digitally designed and one hand illustrator working on ink drawings. Whilst also being a supplier for printed textiles for the likes of Zara, Next and Primark, Adalberto outsources the production of garments on request

Fabrics 4 Fashion / Calvatex showroom & production tour, Monte do Calvelo Lustosa

Fabrics 4 Fashion offers the world’s largest textile library. A specialist supplier for both fashion designers and the couture market, the company works in harmony with their Calvatex venture which means they are able to construct garments on request whilst also assisting customers with fabric samples. Whilst the fabric isn’t woven on the premises they source the designs internationally and the selection was quite overwhelming! On the topic of sustainability, Fabrics 4 Fashion focuses on their manufacturing process and teaches each employee the complete cycle and offers training and progression, whilst also ensuring each individual is fairly treated. We discussed how it’s not only in the use of recycled or innovative fabrics that a company can be sustainable, but instead how they look after their workforce - social sustainability. It was also explained to us that there is a divide in both gender and age from those wanting to learn sewing and manufacturing skills - a topic that was brought up a few times during my time in Santo Tirso - which of course has an effect on the future of established companies. A combination of machinery and hand placement is used for the cutting of the fabric. 

A Sampaio & Filhos showroom & production tour, Santo Tirso
I found the tour of A Sampaio & Filhos particularly exciting as they have a vigorous testing process of their performance textiles and their show room looks like it was designed in the 1980’s. As suppliers of knitted fabrics for sports and protective wear, tractability is of high importance and continuous efforts within the company for more sustainable day to day operations is in process, including the installment of solar panels for electricity and the collection of waste metal. 

Yarn is carefully sourced from Belgium, Italy and Portugal where the technical team make the designers requests into a reality when it comes to performance features. It was noted that when they source wool yarn it is ensured that it is taken from non-mulesed sheep with the natural oil already removed. A separate department for flat knitting machines offers the production of ribbed collars and trims. Once the fabric has been woven the dying process is outsourced and 3 - 4 different partners are used to achieve different results, before returning to the A Sampaio & Filhos lab for testing and close inspection. The facilities for this include a daylight colour checking machine (didn’t catch the official name) which I was unaware existed, which every fabric is put under to access the tone finish. Interestingly standard light bulbs differ in England -probably due to our consistent cloud. Other machinery includes colour fast to sweat (how the dye will bleed when in contact with moisture), a thermocentre which tests how much dye will migrate in heat, a pill test machine for friction, a snagging test (how the fabric reacts when caught on spikes), and various wash tests which access the effect when different fabrics are washed with one another. 

Gierlings Velpor textile mill tour, Portela Alta
Gierlings Velpor gave us the closest insight into their manufacturing process as we were allowed to walk amongst the weaving machines and factory floor to see for ourselves how each fabric is made. Specializing in velvet, artificial fur, 3D fabrics and blended cottons for fashion, home furnishings and auto motives, Gierlings Velpor supplies fabric for the likes of Ralph Lauren, Armani, Max Mara, Paul Smith, Zara and Versace. Producing mostly winter textiles, they export 95% of everything they make with Europe being their largest market. Patterns are created in house by the team, with digital printing facilities available and designs capable of being made as soon as 6 months in advance - as opposed to 2 years as it has been previously. Market reports are created to ensure accuracy when producing fabric for different locations, and inspiration is taken from trend reports, museums and galleries. For the jacquard designed for use in auto motives, the fabric is woven then given a flame retardant finish - the chemicals have been improved following sustainability guidelines - and over time the company has noticed the expectations of customers increasing and demand for decoration higher. For the jacquard weaving machines (which are visible in the images below) each yarn reel is changed by hand, which can be up to 4000. Gierlings can produce pony hair using a specialist machine, and any velvet they make is suspended when posted to ensure the surface isn’t spoiled. I think the photos from this visit are the most satisfying, all the yarns suspended together look like art pieces. 

LMA - Leandro Manuel Araújo, S.A. textile mill tour, Rebordões
The final factory tour of the residency, we were welcomed by Filipa at LMA - Leandro Manuel Araújo, S.A. located in Rebordões. Specialists in woven and knitted textiles, the fabrics are made on site with various treatments being added on request such as anti-bacterial, quick-drying, UV and anti-static. There is a lab available to do extensive testing and as they primarily work with plastic fibres, they are greatly aware of sustainability and the impact the fabrics may have - they believe improvements begin at LMA and not further down the line. Additionally, they only work with suppliers that can guarantee traceability and each process uses bluesign approved yarns, chemicals and oils. Rather than showing collections, progression is made each day with individual projects on the go, including currently with Puma. For independent designers, the fabric minimum is 300m and printing/dying is outsourced with nearby factories - a common process I’ve found out from the majority of Portugal fabric weavers.  

The building itself was really impressive, and was once a spinning plant during the 1950’s. The large weaving area is downstairs, whilst the lab, office and design rooms are upstairs. Each department works together to create each material with a lot of ongoing communication. As well as sports fabrics, materials are made for industries such as the military, furniture, automotive and hospitals. We were shown a selection of fabrics, some had scent woven into the material - scratch n sniff etc - whilst one in particular caught everyone’s attention which had a heat responsive design (see video below) that meant the print would disappear when in contact with heat and reappear once cooled, this process could also be designed to work for water so could give swimwear two different looks. 

Burel Mountain Originals, Portuguese Wool based in Serra da Estrela, store in Porto city

We were introduced to Burel and its wool through Rita one of the lecturers during our creative residency who recently launched her own creative agency @xixar_us alongside teaching Fashion Branding, Creation and Management of Fashion Brands at Escola Superior de Artes e Design.

Hydrophobic, insulating and offering acoustic properties, the fabric is made from a specific wool taken from one type of sheep (Bordaleira) found in the cold mountainous regions of Portugal. Having lived in the region for centuries, the sheep benefit from the natural environment which in turn enriches the wool making it durable, resistant and comfortable to wear. One the wool is collected a meticulous process includes washing, spinning, weaving and felting using traditional machinery that remains in action after over 100 years. Rich and vibrant colourways are a notable characteristic of Burel wool alongside additional patterns and textures. We were lucky to be able to take home some samples kindly given to us from Rita, and during time in Porto we visited the Burel store located on R. de Mouzinho da Silveira 79, 4050-265. Beautifully merchandised in colour tones, the possibilities of the fabrics use were demonstrated through wall hangings, dogs beds, chairs, hats, apparel and homewares. Proud of their heritage and conscious of their process, waste fabrics are used for handmade 'what a waste’ rugs using simple frame looms.

Fábrica de Fiação e Tecidos o Rio Vizela, Vila das Aves
Fábrica de Fiação e Tecidos o Rio Vizela is the oldest factory in Santo Tirso and was built in 1845. As one of the earliest examples of industrial modernization in northern Portugal, the factory is known as being a spinning mill of cotton yarn which was then exported to England. At the height of its success the Rio Vizela Factory employed more than 3000 people and was known for its support in the local railway system, and use of three chimneys which powered the work force. Closed in 2010 during the region’s textile crisis, the future for the factory is to be a hotel part-funded by the Pereira family.  

We were lucky enough to have a quick tour of the area and inside the large original kitchen on our last day, before heading up to the nearby mountains to see Basílica de Nossa Senhora da Assunção. I love seeing the history behind buildings, especially when it look as though everyone suddenly dropped everything and left, with few changes to the interior - although can be quite sad to see the impact. There are still people around, and the kitchen was still running, with the large vats still in use! We couldn’t access the larger rooms but there are a few videos on Youtube that allow you look closer.