In a quiet nook of the bohemian district of San Frediano, hidden behind an 18th-century iron gate that opens onto a whimsical wisteria-covered alleyway, lies a Florentine cultural treasure: the Antico Setificio Fiorentino, or Antique Florentine Silk Mill, which has been producing treasured textiles since 1786.
To enter by way of the atelier’s giant, worn timber door is to slide again by way of time and revisit the enchantment and fantastic thing about a extra opulent period.
Inside, 18th- and Nineteenth-century timber and iron looms, some towering over 16 toes tall, clatter furiously in rhythm with tens of hundreds of luminous silk threads, weaving warp and weft yarns into luxurious materials, guided by the expert arms of a choose workforce of skilled artisans.
Since transferring to Italy in 2003, I’ve grown more and more fascinated with the nation’s extremely gifted artisans, their intriguing workshops and the standard of their merchandise, notably within the Tuscan capital of Florence.
When I first visited the Antico Setificio Fiorentino in 2018 for a non-public occasion, I used to be captivated by the enormous historical looms and the beautiful materials they produced. Their histories, I realized, had been entwined with Renaissance society.
There are round 200 historic material designs within the establishment’s archive which were handed down by way of generations of households. Some bear the names and designs of Italian and European monarchy and the Aristocracy: the lampas of Princess Mary of England; the brocatelle of Corsini, Guicciardini and Principe Pio Savoia; and the damask of Doria, to call solely a few.
Many of those households practiced sericulture — the elevating of silkworms and the manufacturing of silk — and silk weaving in Florence throughout the period of the House of Medici, which rose to energy within the fifteenth century.
Silk was launched to Italy by Catholic missionaries working in China across the yr 1100. The artwork of silk weaving and sericulture in Tuscany flourished within the 14th century; the principle manufacturing was in Lucca, although it quickly expanded to Florence, Venice and Genoa.
At peak manufacturing, there have been round 8,000 looms working in Florence. Today solely a handful of these stay, eight of that are in manufacturing within the Antico Setificio Fiorentino. (Those eight looms had been donated by noble households within the 1700s.) In whole, the mill homes 12 looms, together with the newer semi-mechanical machines.
At the guts of the silk mill is a machine known as a warper, which prepares warp yarns for use on a loom. This explicit warper, designed to function vertically, was constructed within the early Nineteenth century, based on authentic drawings made by Leonardo da Vinci in 1485.
“We use it in the way that it was designed — powered by hand,” mentioned Fabrizio Meucci, the technician and restorer on the workshop.
“It’s not just there for its beauty,” Mr. Meucci added, describing the workshop as a “living and working mill that looks like a museum.”
It’s mesmerizing to look at Leonardo’s warper machine in movement, spinning and completely aligning warp threads from a row of twirling spools onto the creel, which gathers the dear threads. These warp threads are then used to weave trims, ribbons, cords and braiding — used for all the pieces from upholstery, furnishings, and mattress and bathtub linens to trend clothes and accessories.
Dario Giachetti, a 30-year-old artisan, has been working within the textile business for the previous 10 years and solely just lately joined the workforce of weavers on the Antico Setificio Fiorentino.
“There is so much to learn and comprehend in a place like this — even for somebody like me, with my level of experience,” he mentioned, including that it’s magical to see the completed product realized from the uncooked supplies.
“You really get to see the fabric grow and come to life,” he mentioned, describing the method from begin to end — from the pure silk fibers to the tinting levels, the winding and spooling of the threads, the creation of the cylindrically formed skein of yarn, then on to the bobbins, the warp threads after which, lastly, the looms.
The complete course of takes time, and hand weaving specifically may be very gradual. It can take a whole day to provide simply 15 inches of a material like damask, with its intricate designs.
Other materials with thicker threads — such because the brocatelle Guicciardini, for instance, which is often used for upholstery — might be produced extra rapidly, maybe as a lot as six or seven toes in a day.
Outside the partitions of the Antico Setificio Fiorentino, the artwork of manufacturing handmade textiles is essentially vanishing, Mr. Meucci, the technician, mentioned. Making industrial silk materials with trendy machines is quicker, simpler and cheaper. Most producers can’t justify the expense.
But for Mr. Giachetti, the weaver, the ultimate product encompasses a lot extra than simply the technical processes concerned in its creation. When he weaves, he advised me, he provides not simply his time, but additionally his coronary heart, his ardour.
“You are not just buying a fabric,” he mentioned. “You are also receiving a part of my heart.”
“This,” he added, “is the real difference between an artisanal textile and one made industrially.”