Some days ago, there was a degree of uproar in the local media because of a bag that Queen Letizia was carrying while on walkabout in Majorca. The bag in question was white with distinctive red markings. It was the markings that caused the fuss, as they were like the patterns of the “roba de llengües”, considered to be exclusively Majorcan and the product of just three remaining artisan textile manufacturers anywhere in Europe (all Majorcan).
The bag was one of a series of so-called Bolsas FQ. The proceeds from the sales of these bags go to research into cystic fibrosis and the improvement of the lives of people who suffer from cystic fibrosis. This is all handled by the Catalan Association for Cystic Fibrosis.
A highly worthy cause, therefore, but this didn’t prevent the uproar. Meanwhile, Anna Pérez, one of those responsible for the design and distribution of the bags, was delighted, not least because medication for cystic fibrosis is on the point of being approved in Europe; it already is in the US. Anna Pérez has described this medication as being like insulin for a diabetic. It is a “milestone” in allowing sufferers to lead a normal life.
She has also said that donations to the charity have risen because of the visibility given to the cause by Letizia carrying a bag. What was odd about the fuss during the most recent royal summer holiday in Majorca was that few had appeared to notice that the red and white bag was not the first. Last summer, the Queen had a blue and white bag - same markings, same charity cause. Donations quadrupled last August because she was seen with the bag. These donations are for the purchase of bags through Anna Pérez’s website, which is the only means of obtaining them.
Away from Majorca, the media was full of praise for the Queen, and the fashion pages lapped up the images of her with what was being described as her “favourite” bag. The Majorca Fashion Collective was meanwhile less than impressed. It wasn’t Majorcan, even if the bag was being presented to Spain as a tribute to the island’s crafts. There are just the three manufacturers, and they are “fighting to survive the crisis”.
The collective suggested that the three - Teixits Riera (Lloseta), Teixits Bujosa (Santa Maria), and Teixits Vicens (Pollensa) - are in fact the only ones in the world and not just in Europe. This may not necessarily be the case, because the dyeing and design techniques are originally neither Majorcan nor European.
Ikat is the dyeing technique, a chief characteristic of which is the blurry pattern. No one can say with certainty where the technique originated. Nevertheless, the word is Indonesian and the technique was popularised in Europe as a result of Dutch research into textile traditions in the former East Indies. This would therefore place the origins in the Far East, although an alternative theory has proposed that it came from Central and South America; Spanish conquistadors would have come across it.
This latter hypothesis almost certainly isn’t the correct one. A view is that ikat in Majorca came about because of the old Silk Road. There is an anecdote, and no more than this, that when traders stopped in Majorca, islanders saw their fabrics and began imitating them. While it is possible that the Silk Road was responsible, the claims made for it seem more romantic than wholly feasible. The Silk Road effectively died out in the fifteenth century. There was silk trading in the Mediterranean after this, but there was also a great deal of disruption because of the warring Ottomans.
The most plausible explanation lies with an association with France and with the French Revolution. Artisans from France fled the country and came to Majorca. Ikat was in fact still used in parts of Europe until the mid-twentieth century, so it is difficult to explain how Majorca came to be the last remaining centre. Ultimately perhaps, it may possibly just have been a matter of taste, while the adoption and subsequent popularity in the nineteenth century may have owed something to the advancement of textile skills and technologies in Majorca.
Was the blurring simply due to there having been a more rudimentary industry on the island? The pattern first came about because of difficulties with lining up dyed yarns during the weaving process.
In Majorca, there is also a cultural angle. Before the adoption of the term roba de llengües (cloth of tongues), which refers more to the fabric than the technique, the effect was known as “flamulas”. This referred to the flames of a bonfire, central to Majorcan tradition.
Uproar there may have been in some quarters, but might Letizia’s bag not be as much of a benefit to the three Majorcan manufacturers as it is to cystic fibrosis research? There’s nothing like publicity, even if the bag wasn’t made in Majorca.