Image 01

Lady Violette

The Romantic Lifestyle

Mantons for Dancers

February 23rd, 2024 by violette

What are the various different types of Mantons available? Which best suits each situation? And where can you find them? I’ll start with Mantons for Dancers. And what to Look For.

A flamenco dancers shawl is also known as a Manton de Flamenco.  Weight is very important. To dance with a Manton it must have the right substance – a proper breadth and weight for a dancer to be able to move it and move with it to the best effect. A good vintage Manton weighs more than a kilogram – the heavier the weight – achieved by the heavy weight silk, the density of the embroidery and the fringe – the higher the quality of the shawl and the more beautiful it is both to wear and to dance with. The shawl and how it moves is actually is a great part of the choreography of a flamenco dance. It is an important tool for the flamenco dancer. It is an instrument of her art – like a violin to a great violinist. 

Flamenco dancing with a Manton is a highly skilled technique – an art form in itself – as exquisite as the shawls themselves. When the two are brought together – a beautiful shawl and a skilled flamenco dancer the result is a performance of breathtaking beauty. Also, handling a relatively heavy shawl while dancing is an athletic feat that demands strength, excellent timing, grace and flexibility on the part of the dancer. The dancer must work with a coach to learn to move and control a shawl and she must practice many hours to condition her body to handle the Manton as an extension of her very self. This requires dedication and discipline – it does not happen automatically. 

Of course a flamenco dancer selecting the exact right shawl and learning to work with it is similar to a musician selecting the correct musical instrument – somehow the dancer will know on an artistic level when a shawl is the right one. It will choose her and she will choose it and then they will embark on the journey of discovery to get to know each other and become partners in her dance. 

When a dancer finds her perfect shawl they come together during her performance in a fusion of movement, music, passion, art and personality. Much of what happens during such a performance is intuitive as the dancer responds to the movement and character of her shawl. 

These shawls are also stunningly beautiful as fashion pieces that can be worn with many outfits and, when not being worn can be used as unique accents in your home decor. For example, as a piano cover, as a table cloth, as a wall hanging, as a bed or sofa cover. They are elegant works of wearable art and should be used and enjoyed. A carefully selected shawl will become a treasured possession and your personal trademark.

The highest quality shawls are pure silk – the heavier the weight, the higher the quality, and the better the shawl is able to support the embroidery, the substantial macrame latticework and the long weighty fringe. And the better it is able to move and dance with. The right shawl is like having the right dance partner. In a way the shawl is a type of dance partner. Silk is like a living thing, it should match you. Choosing a shawl is like choosing a friend. She should click with you. She should make you very happy. When you meet her. You should act, right away, Please don’t haggle, do not think for a long time, as there are not many of these shawls left and they are actively being bought up by serious collectors. 

The specialty workshops in Canton that originally produced these shawls have been closed down and the skilled crafts people who produced them in old China have essentially vanished. The exquisite high quality antique shawls from Canton are no longer being made and are becoming increasingly rare. Modern versions which I consider to be imitations are being made in China, Pakistan, and India. They are not the same thing. And there is an industry in Spain making all levels of shawls and qualities of shawls from completely hand embroidered silk ones of high quality all the way down to machine embroidered lightweight polyester versions sold to tourists as souvenirs.

The antique originals are the most valuable of the Mantons de Manila or “Spanish Shawls” and are the ones sought after by serious collectors. I have put the term “Spanish Shawls “ in quotes because I want to clarify it – The shawls were produced in Canton, China, then taken to Manila and then to the Americas, both North and South – and finally to Spain and other markets in Europe. Because the shawls were originally produced for export to Spanish Colonies and because they eventually became popularly associated with Spanish Flamenco Dancers they became popularly known and referred to as Spanish Shawls – they are also referred to as Manton – and they are also referred to as Manila shawls because they were brought to the American market from Manila on the Manila Galleons, and they were called Canton Embroidered Shawls because they were produced in Canton. All these terms refer to the same thing. And, because it eventually became popular to drape them over a grand piano they also became known as Embroidered Silk Piano Shawls. Understandably all these terms mixed together can get a little confusing when you are just starting to learn about these shawls/ mantons! It is also important to know that the word manton means shawl in Spanish.

A high quality antique made in Canton Manton de Manila shawl should weigh at least a kilogram, the heavier they are the higher the quality is. Bigger is better and heavier is better up to a point. I will go into the size issue further below. You should look for a shawl that is hand embroidered and double embroidered on both sides so there is no wrong side. A high quality shawl is completely reversible. 

Consider how the shawl looks when folded as a triangle – in half on the diagonal – along the hypotenuse – as this is the most common way to wear it. Also consider how it looks folded in half across the middle side to side in a rectangle as it can also be worn over the shoulders that way. And, finally – consider how it looks spread out flat on a table or bed as you might want to use it some of the time to cover a bed or a sofa or as a table cloth, or over a piano. 

Read my suggestions on how to care for a shawl in an earlier post – so you understand how to straighten and maintain the fringe – you may find one with badly tangled and/or frayed fringe that has not been properly cared for and you may need to access whether you can straighten out and restore the fringe. Sometimes people who were frustrated by tangled strands cut the fringe off of beautifully embroidered shawls or cut it shorter which damaged the proportions of the piece. I advise you to stay clear of shawls with cut off or cut short fringe – the fringe is an important part of the character of a shawl. Also cutting off the fringe devalues the shawl as an antique. I’ve seen some very tangled fringes straightened out and rescued. It just requires a lot of patience! 

Size and Shape of a Shawl: Carefully access the size and shape of a shawl – They were initially intended and designed to wrap around the shoulders and reach almost to the floor like a long cape when worn. When they first became popular as fashion shawls women were wearing crinolines and the shawl had to cover both the woman from her shoulders downward encompassing the entire crinoline all the way to the the ground. It was an era of extreme modesty so absolutely everything had to be covered!

If you intend to wear the shawl as a fashionable wrap, it is wise to consider the length as it may be important to you that the proportions are right for your height.  If you intend to use it as an interior decor piece it may be important to you that it will cover a certain size bed or sofa, or fit across your table or piano in a pleasing manner. The shawls were usually made in square shapes but some were made in circles, some in triangles and some in rectangles. All the shapes and sizes are wearable when you learn how to fold and drape them properly.  I have examples of all these shapes in my personal collection and I will eventually have pictures taken showing ways to wear each shape. For flamenco dancing however, you should acquire a large square shawl. 

For fashion you can figure out pleasing ways to wear any of the available shapes. The various shapes can be worn in different configurations and they all have their own charms. 

The embroidery: An amazing variety of designs and colors were made. Because they were each embroidered by hand no two are alike. Personally, if I am attracted to a shawl and impressed by its colors and the design of the embroidery it is probably a good shawl. I trust my intuition and my personal taste. I have seen and used a lot of these shawls by now so I have knowledge from experience. I will try to impart some of this to you.

Here are some links to beautiful examples of flamenco dancers dancing with shawls to inspire you. Note how large the shawls are and how long the fringe is and how skillfully they handle them.

For dance this is exactly what you need:

Size and shape: You will need a square Manton that measures 52 – 55 inches ( 135 – 140 centimeters) on each side not including the macrame lattice and the fringe. The fringe should be no shorter than 12 inches long, but is usually an additional 18 – 26 inches long. Sometimes even more! Your Dance Manton should cover both your hands when folded in a triangle across the hypotenuse and worn over your shoulders. If it does not cover both hands it will not work for flamenco dancing! Do not buy one that is not large enough. Larger is generally better. It may seem very large to you at first but when you get used to it you will see that it works the best.

A Dance Manton needs to have a certain amount of weight and substance in order to move properly. The fabric, the embroidery thread, the lattice and the fringe all contribute to the final weight. The fabric and the way it handles is very important.

A traditional manton is made of silk, embroidered with silk thread and finished with heavy fringe. There are other types of mantons available nowadays including satin, rayon aka artificial silk, polyester, synthetic fabric blends, even wool! And in theory they would be good for practice, less costly and easier to clean. But, in practice, they are too slippery, or too light, or too heavy, etc. There are some adequate “dance practice” mantons available, however, without embroidery, but still made of silk, so they will handle correctly, with good long weighty fringe. These tend to be less expensive than embroidered manton but are often still attractive enough to use for performance.

A traditional Manton is made of silk, embroidered with silk thread and finished with a heavy silk fringe. There are other types of mantons available today, such as satin and rayon, even wool! And, in theory they are good for practice, but they may be too slippery, too light, or too heavy.  There are some adequate “practice” mantons available, without embroidery, but still made of silk, with good and weighty long fringe.  These tend to be somewhat less expensive than an embroidered Manton , and are often still attractive enough to be performance worthy. They will usually be a solid color but some are made of printed fabric in bright colors that mimic the designs of the fine embroidered shawls. I’ll list some options below. 

Polyester and rayon or artificial silk mantons are available and in theory are not bad for practice. All manor of other synthetic options have been made in an effort for makers to create something cheaper, however, in my experience these polyester and rayon and other synthetic fiber mantons are too small and too lightweight, are often triangular, not square, thus they just don’t work. I recently ran into a square one that was a mixture of silk and rayon that was large and had been copiously embroidered. I was curious so picked it up and tried it out. It was slithery and awful. It would not stay folded and was no substitute for the real thing! 

So, be careful! There are a few decent options however, which I will discuss in detail below.

Cost: 20 years ago you could get a decent antique hand embroidered silk manton from China for $250. Those days are gone. Now, getting a manton in the U.S. has become much more costly. A basic embroidered manton is going for around $400 and up now, although you can still buy a “practice” manton without any embroidery for $100-$250. Beautiful antique Mantons de Manila that were made in the Canton, China embroidery workshops and brought to the New World on the Manila Galleons now start at around $700 and go up to almost $4,000. 

When you find your special antique embroidered made in Canton Manton de Manila use it for select performances as a costume that is a performance show piece. It will be precious and expensive and you will want to protect it. By all means use it but do not tear it up by using it as a learning piece.

-DO NOT invest in that $1500 – $3,000 antique manton thinking you will use it for dance class! You will be slapping your new dance manton all over the floor, ceiling, walls, getting its fringe tangled in your shoe buckles or even with your fellow dancer’s shoes, boots or mantons, and it will start to show wear. This is inevitable! Your practice manton can be beautiful for years (depending on how much or how hard you use it), but it will get sweaty, dirty and frayed. It can be dry cleaned, but you can’t avoid some wear and tear, so get a nice, economical manton for dance classes and rehearsals rather than an exquisite antique treasure you will want to pass on as a family heirloom. Use that special piece for select performances.

A word of advice about colors, dark colored silk shawls are easier to keep looking nice as dancing mantons than white, ivory or pastel shawls. They are also safer to have dry cleaned if you need to clean them because the colored silk embroidery thread is not colorfast and can run onto the lighter colored silks and ruin them. My dry cleaner who is from China and specializes in vintage textiles will not dry clean light colored shawls or other embroidered pieces for fear of ruining them. They cannot be washed, no matter how careful you are, either, because the colors will bleed. It is best to spot clean a shawl immediately if it gets dirt or a stain on it. But it is best of all not to get sweat, makeup, fake tan, perfume or dirt on it in the first place. 

Vintage/Antique mantons are a good option if you can find an adequate one. Prices are all over the map: many sellers see silk and embroidery and instantly label the item a vintage masterpiece worth $3000, when it was made actually made last year in China and machine embroidered and sells for $400. That said, if you pay close attention to the details such as the type of silk used, the weight of said silk, the measurements, the type of embroidery – motifs, thread type and colors, types of embroidery stitches used, the execution of the macrame lattice, etc. – sometimes you can find a good buy on Etsy or eBay. Search “Manton de Manila” or “Piano Shawl.” Also understand that your vintage manton may be in more delicate condition than a new one, and may shed threads or start to disintegrate if you dance intensely with it .… So look for a manton in good shape, and not too shabby chic for dance. 

If you find a beautiful one you love for historical reasons or its provenance, for its unique embroidery pattern, motifs and colors, and it is a price you can afford seriously consider buying it as an art or fashion piece. Just think twice before using such a piece for dance – it may better to enjoy it as an art piece than to destroy it in one night of passionate dancing! OLE!

During my lifetime I have seen these exquisite textiles grow in popularity and value and I know they will continue to do so. I believe they are becoming scarcer because many were bought up during the 1970s by bohemian hippie chicks and heavily used which led to their destruction! At least these girls enjoyed them to shreds! But an awful lot of them were torn, damaged by candle wax drippings or by people smoking and dropping burning ashes on them. Fringes were caught on things and torn off often taking a substantial hunk of silk off in the process as well. Portions of these damaged shawls may be usable as textiles from which to make pillows or other small objects!

Silk is a strong natural fiber and you can use and enjoy an antique Manton de Manila if you are careful with it! Personally I feel they are a good investment that will retain its value and continue to increase in value. 

Spanish Shawls are actually being handmade and hand embroidered in Spain now and are made to the correct specifications for Flamenco Dancing. They are your safest bet for buying a dance shawl that will work for you at an affordable price. This is exactly what to look for: 

An extra large square all silk manton size 53” – 55” square, plus approximately 19” – 20” of fringe. Estimated weight of 1 lb – 1.65 lbs . Hand made in Spain. Prices: $280 – $500 

I suggest looking for them at Flamenco Dance supply shops. You can search for these online. The people who run these shops are knowledgeable and can refer you to sources if they do not have exactly what you need.

If you can go to Spain you will be able to find specialty flamenco dance supply shops that carry a large selection of newly made high quality shawls and antique shawls in a full ranges of sizes and prices. These will be clearly labeled as hand or machine embroidered. This is a good place to do comparison shopping for types of shawls available and costs. Here you can look at recently produced shawls specifically made to the specifications required for flamenco dancing through rare antique Mantons de Manila. They will also carry shawls made specifically for fashion purposes as beautiful embroidered mantons are still popular attire for special occasions, holidays, and ceremonies like weddings.

I will be writing a post on the influence of the original embroidered Canton made Mantons de Manila on contemporary fashion soon.

Rare and beautiful historic clothing and accessories are for sale in my online shops. If you see something on this blog that you are interested in buying, but do not find it for sale in my shops message me on Etsy or Ebay and I will get back to you about availability. I check messages daily and can always prepare a special listing for you if you do not find it already listed in the shops.

Ebay: ladyviolettedecourcy

Etsy: LadyVioletteBoutiqe

Poshmark: cocoviolette 

Fashion Conservator: Lady Violette Boutique



Comments are closed.