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The Fete of the Embroiderers celebrates an exquisite Breton art

Posted in Customs on Tuesday, 11 June 2013

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This edited article about French customs originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 288 published on 22 July 1967.

Breton costume, picture, image, illustration

Girl in Breton costume by James E McConnell

The inhabitants of Pont-L’Abbe in the Bigouden region of Brittany, France, do annual homage to their lacemakers and embroiderers in a beautiful festival.It is called the ‘Fete of the Embroiderers’, founded in memory of those experts of old who established their crafts in this region of France.

The industries of the area are principally fishing, for the men, and lacework and embroidery for the women. There is, however, a flourishing agricultural industry and associated canning factories, and the seemingly inexhaustible quantities of seaweed found along the coast are processed for a variety of purposes, including the manufacture of fertilisers and animal feeding stuffs.

Traditional local costumes can be seen throughout the whole region, and fashions vary from village to village.

The variety of feminine clothing, particularly of the lace headdress, is extraordinary. In some areas the headdresses are white, with wings, and are accompanied by enormous starched collars which completely cover the shoulders; in others they are quite small, coming to a point, and held in place by a broad chinstrap. The most famous, however, are to be found in Pont-L’Abbe, where the style is in the form of a white mitre in conjunction with bodices heavily embroidered in orange and gold.

Years ago, the men of the region used to wear costumes in their everyday life, but now these are seen only on Sundays and holidays.

The traditional male Breton costume consisted of an enormous hat with velvet ribbons dangling from it, a short black coat and wide knee-breeches. Nowadays the men seem to confine their dressing-up to a black hat, the size and shape of which varies from parish to parish, and the traditional embroidered waistcoat.

The fete centres round a large procession in which over 500 costumes of different colours and patterns are presented. There are bands and banners, and the day ends with the election and crowning of the Queen of the Embroiderers.

Although modern industries have come to Pont-L’Abbe, embroidery and lacemaking are still vitally important to the prosperity of the town. The festival is an annual reminder of the charm, grace, beauty and skill of expert craftswomen at a time when machines are replacing human ingenuity.

Exhibitions and demonstrations of the art of embroidery are held throughout the year in the town.

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