A visit to the factory ….
A good many of our guests remark upon our floor tiles which are very beautiful but also hard wearing, and, best of all, don’t show the dirt – a priceless asset in the damp, mud-producing winter!
They’re made in southern Portugal, principally around the Algarvian village of Santa Catarina and a few days ago we had to go down there to buy some more for a new floor we’re making this winter, so I thought I’d make a small “photo diary” to show everyone how and where they’re made.
The “factories” are usually small family affairs, employing approx 5 people each, and are situated right on top of the raw material, a band of red clay that stretches the length of the Algarve, but which is of a particularly fine quality around Santa Catarina itself, and this village gives its name to the tiles.
First of all the raw, red clay is dug out of the ground during the summer and stored for the year’s work ahead.
These diggings invariably fill with water during the winter and provide a haven for wildlife of many varieties – water is always in short supply this far south.
The clay is then ground down to a finish paste inside a rock crusher and water added to produce a uniform but rough paste. This is put by hand into a simple mould, (coated with ashes to ease its leter extraction), and flattened with a wooden spatula.
From here it’s passed to one side onto a simple metal plate which is then picked up and, on it’s way over to be laid out to dry, is striated by hand with a milky mixture made of a different clay.
It’s during this drying process that paw prints are sometimes added by various dogs and cats wandering over the tiles – I quite like them!
Having dried for a certain amount of time – depending upon the season this can be between 2 days or three weeks – it is then stacked inside a furnace, …
… which is fired by sawdust, pine cones, almond shells and olive pips. The average loss during the process is 15%, and this, coupled with the hand made process explains their relatively high cost of approx half a euro each. No two tiles are ever exactly the same as there is always some distortion during firing – which produces the authentic “country-style” uneven floor – so destructive to furniture movement!
A special thanks to Artur and Edgar for taking the time to show us around and explain everything to us.