When you come on your holidays to Malta, you’ll undoubtedly find a wealth of arts and traditions on the islands that have been passed down from one generation to the next. Malta has no shortage of traditional handicrafts, and one such beautiful craft is ganutell.

Originating from the Italian word ‘canutiglia’ meaning tinsel, ganutell, is the incredibly intricate art of using fine wires, thread and beads to form delicate floral and leaf decorations. The tradition dates, as far as current records show, to the 17th century.  One notable piece is ‘The Tree of Life’, a ganutell piece of artwork held in a private house in Rabat. It bears a small part of music manuscript, rolled up to form a base of the wound wire, dates from the 1600s. While similar methods of making artificial flowers from wire, thread and beads exist across mainland Europe, Malta has developed its very own unique form of ganutell.

Photo: Maria Kerr

Historically, local ganutell was made in monasteries and convents, with several monks and nuns mastering the art to an incredibly high standard. This lead to their to having their beautiful work commissioned by the Knights of St John to create ornate pieces to be displayed in a glass cabinet before being sent to Rome as gifts for the Pope. As masters of the art, they incorporated gold and silver wires, silk thread and tiny glass beads to create additional works for churches around the island. Local churches began to displays the works.

The craft was passed down from one generation to the next for hundreds of years, but sadly the aftermath of the second world war impacted the craft production profoundly. The materials became difficult and expensive to source; the art nearly disappeared. To keep the craft going, some creatives began using far cheaper materials such as pipe cleaners and low-quality wires and beads. 
Slowly as the islands began to recover from the war, the art started to make a resurgence. Nowadays many people meet to produce work for their local parish church. You can also find ganutell making an appearance in wedding headbands, and holy communion dresses. Even some modern fashion designers are using the beadwork.

Across the churches in Malta and smaller exhibitions, you can find stunning examples of ganutell. Or why not try a ganutell workshop and take the skill home with you!

Book your flights to Malta today and discover the Maltese Isles.