The hand embroidery of Madeira is generally recognised as being the finest of its kind available in the world. Over the last 150 years, Madeira has collected expertise from the fast disappearing regional centres of hand embroidery across Europe and moulded these various styles into a distinctive package, that, in terms of quality of handwork, is unsurpassed worldwide.

The story begins in the 1860s when Elizabeth Phelps, the youngest daughter of a wealthy wine shipper, concerned over the effects the vine disease Phyloxera was having on the income of the vineyard workers, set out to turn the rural pastime of simple embroidery into a cottage industry. Using her overseas connections and her own skills, mainly in organisation and motivation, she started to sell the work of the Madeiran embroiderers to the parlours of Victorian England.

The industry, although vibrant in the early part of the century, slipped into decline during the years of the Great War (1914-18) and was largely taken over by Syrian and Lebanese interests who mass produced simple products of doubtful quality, principally for the US market. However, the post war period saw a return of a demand for high quality products and a new entrepreneurial spirit. It was during this period that many of today's existing companies were founded - PatrĂ­cio & Gouveia (1925), Imperial de Bordados (1926) J.A.Teixeira (1937).

The next forty years were dominated by the huge market potential in the US, peaking in the 1950s. Many of the largest companies were American-owned including Jabara, Imperial and Margab Linens. In the early 1970s with the opening of the market to Chinese imports, the US trade fell off dramatically. Since then, with the exception of a flourishing trade with southern Italy that tailed off in the early 1990s, no single market has so dominated and influenced the industry.

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