When I was a little girl, one of my favorite book series was the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace (actually, they’re still some of my favorite books). In the books, set in the early 20th century, Betsy has a sister Julia, who goes to Europe to study opera. Julia travels to Europe with a local church group and spends several weeks touring with them before taking up her studies. She writes home to Betsy, her other sister Margaret and her parents and tells them that she’s looking at everything five times as hard because she is looking for all of them.
That was me today, looking for both myself and my sister Nancy, who is a weaver, when I visited the Giuditta Brozzetti Museo-Laboratorio di Tessitura a mano, a museum and workshop of hand-woven textiles. My guide in the workshop was Marta, the great-granddaughter of Giuditta Brozzetti.
Of immediate interest was the building that houses the workshop. It is a former church, the oldest Franciscan church in Perugia. The stone glows a faint pink; Marta said this is a characteristic of stone from Assisi – local stone is white. The stone is an effective backdrop for the rich textures and colors of the work in process and the finished pieces.
Marta showed me the looms, which range from a small handloom to looms so large that a flying shuttle is needed to carry the weft through the threads of the warp. I got an idea of the intricacy of the weaving when Marta told me that 3600 threads are needed to make the warp of the largest loom.
On the small loom, Marta is reproducing the pattern of a textile seen in a painting by Pintoricchio (15th century). I couldn’t see how Marta could determine the pattern in a piece of draped cloth, but she can. She did say that the painter was good at painting, but didn’t know about weaving, as the pattern was not completely technically feasible!
The larger looms are Jacquard looms, used for weaving complex patterns of griffins (the city symbol of Perugia), doves, unicorns, vines and other elements. These looms allow for the automated raising of individual warp threads via the use of punched cardboard cards. Marta explained that this could be considered the first computer because a system of 0s and 1s is used! Marta showed me how the cards are punched, a task that used to be done by a company in Milan, but now is done in-house.
One of the most interesting looms is a restored loom (16th century) used to weave “Fiamma di Perugia,” the flame pattern. Marta’s family recovered the secret to this weaving technique, which was lost last century.
It was a thrill when Marta demonstrated weaving with the flying shuttle on the largest loom – it’s one of those things that’s hard to visualize when you read about it in a book but becomes clearer when you see it in action. Marta also demonstrated the orditoio, a tool from the 16th century used to prepare very long warps.
After the tour, I spent some time looking at the finished textiles. They were all beautiful – the colors, the patterns and the craftsmanship. I could see the table linens being given as wedding gifts and becoming family heirlooms down the years. I told Marta that when I was furnishing an apartment again, I would be back to make a purchase. She mentioned that an apartment was available across the way; I hope she won’t be too surprised when Nancy and I show up to live there while we attend a workshop with her!
All in all, it was a soul-satisfying morning: learning about the looms and patterns, seeing the finished work and most of all, hearing Marta talk with such passion about her work.
For more information, please visit the website: http://www.brozzetti.com (there is an English version available via a link on the home page).