May 02 2011
Among all the coffee-makers and Le Creuset casserole dishes I racked up as wedding presents this year (all very welcome), there was one stand-out gift: a blanket hand-woven in raw silk and cotton, in a subtle striped design based on soft yellow and grey. The label bore the letters BLD, but no website and no phone. A little investigation revealed that the letters stood for Belén López de Diego, an artisan weaver in a village in Cantabria, northern Spain, whose products are among the most exclusive and exquisite of their kind.
It turns out that my blanket was made in a water-powered mill, the Molino de Mazcuerras, in the picturesque valley of the river Saja, 45 minutes from Santander. Of Belén’s three working looms, one dates from the 17th century. Her techniques are resolutely traditional: for my wedding blanket, for instance, she used the “rosepath” threading method and wove it on a horizontal warp. She specialises in blankets, towels, throws and shawls, made from various mixtures of silk, Spanish linen, and cotton. All are one-off pieces (reasonably priced from around €30-€60 for a towel and €120-€250 for a blanket): some are finished with appliqué fringes of antique lace and velvet.
In a publicity-obsessed age, there is something refreshing about Belén’s determination to stay well under the radar. Her pieces are not sold in conventional shops, and online purchase is clearly out of the question. The best way to see and buy her work is directly at the mill. In August she holds an annual exhibition at the Molino de Mazcuerras during the first half of the month; at other times of year the mill can be visited by appointment.