The Manila Shawl, Magic Square

Its movement captivates us. The Manila shawl, or mantón de Manila, is a garment that swings to the rhythm of the subtle gestures of the flamenco dancer. While this silk square, embroidered with fringe, has now integrated into the Andalusian folk landscape, its origin lies far beyond the borders of Spain. Its history can be traced back along ancient trade routes and into China.
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Manila shawl
It was the Persians who first introduced the shawl to Asian soil. In China, shawls were traditionally woven from fine silk before being hand-embroidered with natural and cultural motifs of flowers, bamboo, birds, dragons and pagodas. The predominance of certain stitches – namely, flush, flat and running – suggests that the earliest examples were made in the city of Canton.
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Manilla shawl, Jorge Maya
The Manila shawls take their name from the city of Manila, the capital of Philippines that was established in 1571 by the Spanish empire, before their moving onto New Spain (now Mexico). From there, they were redistributed throughout Europe. Across the centuries, the port of Manila asserts itself as a principal commercial port for luxury goods.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAManila shawl, drawing, embroidery and fringe, Robledo Campos Portela, Seville
The shawl has gradually entered into the daily women’s wardrobe, notably in Seville and without regard to social class. Bamboo, dragons, and pagodas have been phased out in favor of Western motifs. Flowers have prevailed, each with a unique symbolic meaning. Originally rectangular, the shawls took on a square form around 1820. Around 1850, fashion trends moved to make the colors bolder, the threads thicker, and the embroidery work larger. Fringe, probably added in Spain, were knotted in the style of macrame.
Beyond the scene, the Manila shawl continues to be worn for important ceremonies, as well as to adorn the balconies lining religious processions and festivals.
Thank you to Jorge Maya for his help in writing this article.
Cover Photo: Manila shawl, drawing and embroidery, Satu Rivera, Carrión de los Céspedes, Seville, fringe, Sonia González, Seville