Handmade slippers of Olhão

At the weekend we were surprised to discover that Olhão was not just a fishing centre, it was once the biggest centre of production of sapatos de ourelo, a kind of slipper. This beautiful and colourful cloth shoe/slipper was regularly made and used throughout the Algarve until as recently as the mid 20th century.

They were not factory produced products. It was a cottage industry, and at one time there were around 70 women hand-making them in Olhão. By the 1980s however there were only a few women left still making them.

The name translates as ‘shoes of edging/margins’ and originated from the practice of using scraps of soldiers uniforms, including the decorated edging in their production. Narrow strips of fabric are interwoven with strips of wool, and fur is also used to add further decoration and, I suspect, also warmth. The sole was wood and was added afterwards by a shoemaker. Apparently in coastal areas they were called “chalocas” and in the interior “cloques”, due to the noise made when walking in them. The city museum is currently showing a short video of how these beautiful slippers were made, I captured a few moments.

Author: BeckyB

It's a good life walking, cooking, photographing, volunteering, reading, blogging, and best of all spending time with family, friends & the cat!

25 thoughts

  1. so beautiful, in the old days, it was like that…. in every home, women, mothers or grandmothers made for all of us… Life changes but I am still crazy with this kind of works. Thank you dear Becky, have a nice day, Love, nia

    1. Huge shame, especially as it is only in last 20yrs much of it has been lost here. So many opportunities missed.

  2. It’s a bit like the rag rugs our grandmothers used to make (but with tap dancing soles 🙂 🙂 ). Quite satisfying to make something out of remnants.

  3. Great article. I saw these slippers in the museum a few weeks ago but didn’t know the history of them. I know ‘ourelo’ means ‘strip of coarse cloth’ but didn’t realise they also used the edging of soldiers uniforms to make them. They looked cosy, but I don’t think the wooden soles sound very comfortable!

    1. It was thanks to your post we went.I know I’m unsure about the soles too – would love to discover some for sale. Going to ask our local Portuguese friends if they know of anyone still making them.

  4. I love this kind of “news”. And worry about all the skills we are losing – every day – in the world. Not everything can be made from googling…

    1. So so true….. what makes it really sad is that it was only a few years ago someone was still making them. A missed opportunity to hand on the skills.

      1. In Dalarna, Sweden, they still make beautiful things out of human hair. It was a custom for young girls to let their hair grow – and when they finally cut it, they sold it to a hair artist. Necklaces, bracelets, earrings – gems were made to keep for generations. Nowadays I think there might be one or two people left who still practice this old art. It will soon be lost.

  5. Very interesting, Becky. The sole is wood? Is that comfortable? I probably would get a pair, too 😉
    Have a great day.

  6. I’m such a pedant, by the way (as if you didn’t know). According to the information you attached, the name translates literally as ‘shoes of the margin’ or ‘of the edge’, which, less literally, would probably be ‘shoes made of remnants’. Did someone at the museum give you a more colourful interpretation? Perhaps trying to brighten their day. :))

    1. Ahha! Thought it wasn’t quite right. Wasn’t at museum but someone had written a short piece on the internet. I should know better by now! Thanks for clarifying 😀 I’ll amend it in morning.

  7. Oh, the things we’ve lost! If only someone still has the skill and could teach it. I’d love to make or at least own a pair.

    1. Apparently there was someone still making them a couple of years ago, maybe the two of us one day should investigate further 😊

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