Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



From Textiles in Daily Life: Proceedings of the Third Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–26, 1992 (Earleville, MD: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1993).


Copyright © 1992 by the author(s).



Cotton and flax are known as plants whose fibers are used in the manufacture of textiles, and hemp and jute are known as plants used to make rope. Less well known for its contribution to both textile and rope manufacture is the plant sparto (Spartium iunceum L.; Spanish broom) which grows wild over much of the Mediterranean region in brushwood localities of the mountainous and semi-mountainous zones, including the area of my fieldwork village on the West Coast of the Greek Peloponnesos.

Sparto is a perennial broom, growing as a shrub not reaching over 3m. in height. Its abundant green branches are slender and sharply-pointed. Leaves are small; and tiny, bright yellow flowers form spikes at the ends of stems and appear from May through July.

Sparto's use for rope and textile manufacture may reach back into Greek pre-history as Homer mentions sparto ropes in the Iliad. Writing in the 1st century A.D., Pliny, in eight books of his Natural History discusses sparto as a source for making ship's rope, bedding, shepherd' s clothes and footwear. This testimonia gives evidence for the use of sparto in antiquity, but these sources do not furnish complete descriptions of processing methods. On the other hand, though sparto was commonly exploited in rural Greece until less than a lifetime ago, modern documentation on either the plant's use or its manner of processing is rare.

Because the customs surrounding sparto are still within the living memory of older Greeks, recording information is essential. First, the information explains how sparto was processed in the near past and may give clues to ancient processing methods. Second, the information aids in reconstructing the social meaning of hand-producing textiles in the past. Third, the information helps to explain recent changes in modern, rural Greek society.

One of my primary contributors is Evagelika. In response to my queries about sparto, she offered to demonstrate the step-by step precedures for processing it. This occurred over two days in August 1990. My narration incorporates information received from a variety of people; but because I participated in most of the steps during Evagelika's demonstrations, these events form the core of my record of processing methods, as well as my analysis of the social implications.