Stroll around Ceret for a while and you’ll start to see stripes – Catalan stripes. These bold colourful lines seem to enliven everything here in the village from screens in bistros to pot-plants on windowsills, and even appear on plastic shopping bags. In boutiques and gift shops, you’ll find them brightening anything from summery espadrilles to ceramic bowls.
The candy-striped pattern is such a source of pride it has become synonymous with French Catalan culture. Not only are tourists buying striped souvenirs but locals are collecting a little bit of their heritage too.
The original source of all things striped is the distinctive, traditional handmade Catalan fabric called Les Toiles Du Soleil, or ‘The Cloth of the Sun’, which has been produced in the village of Saint Laurent de Cerdans at the same factory for 150 years.
In the early 20th century, practically the entire village was devoted to producing the vibrant textile, with some 3,000-odd people employed in its production. Numbers gradually declined as machine manufacturing expanded elsewhere, until a man called Joseph Sans introduced power looms at his factory, Sans et Garcerie, to produce handmade espadrilles from the colourful cloth. By the 1960s, business was booming again, although the factory employed only 170 workers.
Another period of decline followed until the 1990s when the Quinta family took over and decided to retain the traditional techniques that made the cloth so versatile, hardwearing and durable, but to update its use to appeal to contemporary tastes. As a result, the company has strict control over how the cloth is used.
In Ceret, only three designers have the rights to use the fabric, and the three friends are collaborating to establish a business called Made In Ceret. Jerome Perez, an interior designer, decorates lamps with the textile and uses it on upholstery and in other interior design elements, while Raphaelle Reixach makes cute Catalan sailor jackets from the fabric. Coralie Scarnato, a fashion designer who graduated from Central St Martins in London, is putting the textile to its widest use.
In her little boutique called La Bohème, Coralie sits at her sewing machine, making all of her gorgeous products by hand: reversible handbags, shoulder bags and sunhats, napkins, placemats, and table runners, and pretty cosmetic purses.
So what makes the fabric so special? First, it’s the dying process, which results in fabric so fast it can be bleached and not change colour, and is therefore sun- and stain proof. Then it’s the strength and durability – the dyed cotton (100%) is tightly woven (warp and weft twisted) on traditional old looms. Coralie swears it will last forever. But even if it doesn’t, it will certainly brighten up hundreds, if not thousands, of days.
La Boheme, 04 68 39 81 57
Boulevard Jean Jaurès, Ceret
Take-Homes is a series of posts from each destination in which I recommend mementos to buy. My suggestions, and my own purchase choices, are based on sustainable travel criteria: they must be things that are authentically local, that are traditionally made by locals, or things locally produced that are used on an everyday basis by locals, and could include anything from handicrafts to regional food produce. See our previous posts from Marrakech, Jerez (food and flamenco), and Barcelona (chocolate!)