The “Museu Etnográfico da Madeira” collection.
Sheep wool was used by the Madeiran people to make a type of traditional cap, the so-called “barretes de vilão” or “barretes de orelhas”.
The most common ones, which are still commercialized today, have a small wool tassel at the top and two appendages on the sides, which rise or fall over the ears. According to some authors, these caps making was, in the past, an industry private to the men of these localities in some parishes. Nowadays it is a female activity and most of the artisans use industrial manufactured wool.
The shearing, to obtain this raw material, constituted an event of great importance in the rural population life’s, located in the mountain areas. The afforestation of the wasteland, the reduction of available grazing areas and the restrictive measures to grazing cattle in the mountains, as well as the rural exodus, contributed decisively to the sheep farming reduction and, consequently, wool was no longer used as raw material, in artisanal production.
Although nowadays only one model of these caps is commercialized, in the past their morphology was more diverse, which, according to some authors, varied according to the region.
At Ponta do Sol, there are references of a flat cap on the top of the head, made from coarse and fuzzy wool, tassel in the center and three short erect ears, one behind and one on each side.
In Santana, it seems that it took the name and shape of a bird's nest, so small that it was on top of the head. When they put it on, they pressed it with the hand, against their head, while turning it in a half turn to pin it in their hair.
In Caniçal and Machico, it is said that they were made with colored wool, extending into a long appendage in an almost tapered shape, and ending in frayed tassels of different colors. They were widely used by fishermen.
In the other island villages, it was the typical pointed cap, today the most commercialized, with two ears, which in the winter were lowered and were attached by the tips under the chin and in the summer they rose, adjusted to the cap, from which the end protrudes a thick tassel of wool.
Credits: Museu Etnográfico da Madeira