by Fiona Flores Watson
Francisco Carrera Iglesias is a master embroiderer, continuing the five-centuries-old tradition of intricate gold embellishment in his Seville workshop. Velvet gowns worn by Virgin Mary statues in Holy Week processions are gloriously embellished, exquisite limited-edition scarves are painstakingly decorated for couture houses, and evening gowns are bejazzled with sequins. At the height of his profession, this charming, cultured artisan is the youngest Sevillano ever to have a street named after him
When I visit the workshop of Francisco Carrera Iglesias, hidden away on a narrow back street in the Alfalfa area of Seville, two gold-embroidered mantos (cloaks) are spread out along 10-metre-long tables - one is new, for a Virgin Mary statue in Huelva; the other is being restored, and has come further, from Cuenca. Women are sitting at the tables, carefully sewing yellow thread onto the velvet fabric, as a guide for where to position the pieces of gold embroidery.
They have been working on these four-metre-wide mantos for many months already - the brand new cloaks will take two years to create, and the restoration one year. On a mannequin stand is a skirt for a virgin from Ciudad Real, which has already been restored and is magnificent with its rich velvet fabric and gleaming gold embellishment.
Other workers, including Francisco's niece, Rosa, are sewing coloured sequins and little silver leaves onto dresses - tiny blue and red beads, sparkling and flashing in the light, adding that pizzazz essential to Spanish frocks. These glamorous garments have been ordered by Spanish designers such as Jesus del Pozo and Colour Nude. Francisco's assistant, Diego -"mi mano derecho" (my right-hand man) has been with Francisco since he was a teenager. "We're like a family," says Francisco, with his warm, infectious smile. A further six women work from home, mostly mothers with small children, for whom such flexibility is ideal.