The hand embroidery of Madeira is generally recognised as being the finest of its kind available in the world, and is part of the history and culture of Madeira. 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.
Although Madeira embroidery has existed since the beginning of the settlement of Madeira (it is said that noblewomen embroidered as a hobby, for their trousseau or to decorate their houses), the great history begins in the 1860s when Elizabeth Phelps, the youngest daughter of a wealthy wine shipper, concerned with 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), although it has remained an important part of the regional economy along with the wine market. However, the post-war period saw the 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 - Patrício & Gouveia (1925), Imperial de Bordados (1926), and J.A.Teixeira (1937).
The next forty years were dominated by the huge market potential in the U.S., peaking in the 1950s. Many of the largest companies were American-owned, including Jabara, Imperial and Margab Linens. In the 19th century, England and Germany were the main importing countries. In the 20th century, Madeira embroidery exports gained a worldwide dimension. Nowadays, the United States of America, England and Italy are the main export markets of Madeira embroidery, internationally recognised for its refinement, art and tradition.