In 1980, almost every house in Lagartera had a ‘’solano’’, a room on the top floor of the house with a very large window, which gave enough light to sew when it was too cold to be outside, or when it was raining. The heating often came from a charcoal-burning brazier. The sun also warmed the room during the day, when the solano was used. Even so, you weren’t lightly dressed in the solano and sometimes you wore a dressing gown to keep the cold out, like an indoor coat, which gave you more freedom of movement for sewing than a real coat.

Sewing in the solano meant that you were in a more private place than the street or the courtyard.  Relatives and neighbours sewed together in the solano, but space was limited. I started sewing in the solano of Magdalena and her mother, Aunt Filo, with their relatives and neighbours.

Here is Magdalena (on the right) with her cousin Carmen.

As I was quite shy at that time, coming out of the enclosed world of books into the daylight, I didn’t speak very loudly. Magdalena likes to teach (and tell people what to do), and it wasn’t long before she told me that I spoke like a ghost, in a low voice that nobody could hear. She ordered me to go out of the solano, and come in again saying GOOD MORNING in a loud voice.

I’d lived in Madrid before, and for many people from Madrid, Lagarteran Spanish is not easy to understand. Magdalena was my language teacher. As a good teacher, she spoke clearly, pausing from time to time to see if the student had understood, and gave explanations with total confidence, even if they were sometimes somewhat improvised.

Soon she and her neighbours had taught me how to hem, counting the threads, a skill which, in those days, a five-year-old Lagarteran girl knew how to do. Then I learned to embroider counting the threads on the cloth, and to count, cut and draw threads. Only the older women knew how to do a special stitch called ‘’sembrar’’, that formed the body of the design on drawn threadwork. Aunt María, Aunt Pilar and Aunt Petra sewed designs for me for a tablecloth for twelve people.

I went to the town hall in the morning to study records, and sewed in the afternoon. It was pleasant to work in company, in a place with warmth and light, even on bad weather days.

In this photo of the solano on a rainy day, you can see Magdalena on the left, then Aunt Maria, Aunt Pilar, and Amada on the far right.

Sometimes we chatted, other times we listened to the radio. And there were also visits from relatives and children.

Here you can see Mª Teresa, Aunt Amalia, Raquel daughter of Hortensia, and Aunt Petra.

I took a lot of photos of Aunt María, because we sewed a lot together, she always seemed to be in a good mood, and she didn’t mind my taking photos of her.

Here she was taking a break for her teatime snack. She took a small knife out of her skirt, and explained that it was used to defend herself against possible muggings when she went to Madrid. For Aunt Maria, the world had changed rapidly. Not long before, she had used a telephone for the first time.

Sometimes Aunt María sewed in Magdalena and Aunt Filo’s solano, other times in Aunt Petra’s entrance, where light also came in through a large window.

I would also visit Aunt Piedad’s solano, where she sewed with her daughters.

Here you can see Aunt Piedad.

And I also sewed in the solano of Aunt Mª Francisca and her daughter Amada.

Here is Mª Francisca. She had a basket to keep the embroidery in, posher and more picturesque than the cardboard boxes that many people used.

Relatives also came to sew here, like Irene.

Irene was sewing near the window so that she could see the work well.

And sometimes friends would come.

Like Pili la Confi.

When I asked Magdalena ‘What would you like to do for a living, if you could choose?’ She answered, “Anything but sewing!’’ In Lagartera there were few opportunities for women back then, especially if you didn’t have enough money to study or start a business. So almost all the women either sewed, sold embroideries, or combined the two activities. However, Amada did like sewing, and specialised in fine needlework.

You can tell she is creating a jewel. Amada is a woman of many talents, for design, theatre, and music. Like Magdalena, she is very expressive, and knows how to communicate. They both went to England with me, and they got on very well with my mother, because of their expressive body language. A gesture can say more than a hundred words.

Sometimes I would go to the district of Pozo Nuevo to see Mari Mar, a student from Madrid who was doing her Masters in Lagartera. There I met Paloma, a native of Lagartera who has portrayed the village with her brush and with a lot of affection.

Here are, from left to right, her aunt Marciana, in the middle, her mother, Felisa, and then María Pascual. They were sewing Paloma’s bridal bedcover. These bedcovers needed a lot of work, and when a wedding was imminent, relatives and neighbours helped to finish them.

The solano is a pleasant place in the daytime, and a good place for get-togethers with friends.

Here are Magdalena, her dog Dyc, María Jesús, and Paloma in the solano of Álvaro, a friend from Madrid who had a house in Maestro Guerrero street.

Today, many solanos have disappeared, and of those that survive, many are abandoned. They are used to dry laundry on rainy days, or to store junk. If you enter a solano today, you can imagine the feminine world of those times, the radio, the sighs when the work tired the eyes, and the laughter when women joked with relatives and neighbours.

Alison Lever, Lagartera, Toledo, April 2022