Nobody is sure about the origins of the cloth of tongues (‘robes de llengües’ in Mallorcan,‘telas de lenguas’ in Castilian), but its roots are in the Far East. It’s told that travellers on the Silk Route rested a while on Mallorca, where the ikat cloth they were transporting was seen by islanders. “We don’t know if these travellers were artisans or if local artisans copied the ikat technique,” says Cati Vicens Capllonch, at the helm of her family’s business Teixits Vicens. It’s one of three Mallorcan companies still producing the distinctive fabric – based on a centuries-old technique from the exotic East, with Mediterranean-inspired designs.
Teixits Vicens began with Cati’s great-great-grandfather, in 1854, in a small Pollença workshop. It was her grandfather who introduced the ‘roba de llengües’ but he sadly died young in the Spanish Civil War. Using his late father’s notes, Martí Vicenç (Cati’s father) reinvented the cloth of tongues, setting up business with his wife Antònia in Can Sionet, on Carrer Calvari. Today, it’s the charming Martí Vicenç Museum, showcasing his textiles, paintings and sculptures.
Teixits Vicens moved to larger premises 35 years ago, just outside the town, and today employs 12 people. “We are like a family,” says Cati, who has been working in the business for 15 years, after studying art history. Although now in charge, she seems reluctant to be labelled as manager, believing that every multi-skilled member of the team – which includes her sister Joana and a cousin – is important to the company. Production of the cloth is a manual process, using the ikat pattern-producing technique of dyeing the cotton thread, with parts masked to remain uncoloured, before it is woven.
“Mallorca is the only place in Europe that preserves the artisan ikat technique,” Cati explains. “But the fabric is different because of the Mediterranean colours – we are inspired by our landscape.”
Three people are dedicated to the specialist task of producing the hardwearing high-quality fabric (70 per cent cotton, 30 per cent linen). They produce 9,000 metres a year – only 50 per cent of capacity – but the quantity is increasing as the recession eases. Some 25-30 per cent of their products are directly exported; sales outlets include Barney’s (New York), Le Bon Marché (Paris), Vinçon (Barcelona) and Rialto Living (Palma de Mallorca). They exhibited in April at the trade fair Salone del Mobile in Milan.
Their many customers include the hotels Es Molí in Deià and Sis Pins in Port de Pollensa, the Pollensa Music Festival, Princess Michael of Kent, actress Jane Seymour, and German musician Peter Maffay. And HM Queen Sofía of Spain – for whom Cati’s father made a special order of a discontinued pattern for Marivent Palace.
It’s easy to forget that Teixits Vicens has existed for 160 years when you visit the bright contemporary shop. Their colourful wares – bolts of cloth and the numerous products made in the upstairs workshop – are attractively displayed. On weekdays, before three o’clock, you can visit the workshops, and take a step back in time.
Cati is continually updating their range of fabrics and products; recent additions include colourful espadrilles, baskets, tote bags, and ballet pumps (made on Menorca). “We have something for every member of the family,” she says, indicating a cloth of tongues dog bed to make any pooch proud. Also new is the Teixits Vicens patterned tableware made in Pòrtol.
Cloth of tongues is truly a product of Mallorca – and unique in the whole of Europe. Cati’s favourite fabric is in sea shades of blue and green. “It reminds me of the Mediterranean.” And of those who sailed it, bringing the ikat technique to Mallorca.
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