Azores Knitting

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Pita Lace

both 6"-6.5" in diameter, a little asymmetric
2nd half of the 19th century
Knitted pita fiber

Are these knitted doilies made from pita fiber in the Azores? Or is it a fine heavily starched cotton, as might have been manufactured in Madeira. Under a microscope it shows a 2-ply Z structure, and I don't know what pita is supposed to look like magnified. Jury's out, but I'll assume Pita for the moment until a better analysis can be done. These little doilies are not too rare, so we have to be very careful.

The Azores became a center for very fine knitted lace from pita fiber around 1840. Apparently they also made bobbinlace out of pita fiber, but I don't know of any examples.

Pita is a product of the Century plant (Agave americana, aka American Aloe - although it is not a true aloe). It is native to Mexico, and was imported into the Azores by the Spanish. There was some variation in quality in the Americas, with finer fibers found in Central America. And excellent mythological and early history of this plant can be found at The name "Century Plant" was given because it seemed like a century before it bloomed - actually the time is about 15 years.

Photo by Deane Jordan. See Century Plant: Edible Agave Americana.

The fiber is extracted from the leaves much like flax is processed for linen. Leaves are gathered together, crushed and beaten, and left to ferment. The mass is immersed in water to further deteriorate the pulp. Eventually the leaves are separated, rubbed and scraped, and left to dry. The whiteness of the product depends on the care taken in preparation. Threads made from this plant tend to stand up to washing much better than those made from Aloe. Quite a similar process is used to extract the thread for piƱa cloth from pineapple leaves in the Philippines.

The doilies have stood up very well over time. The pattern is quite similar in each, and very delicate. Note the typical 'popcorn' like stitch, made by winding a thread many times around one needle.

purchased 02/07/2006
first posted 02/14/2009