The Fabric of Time: Traditional Umbrian Textiles
It pains me to admit it, but the times, they are a-changin’, even here in Umbria.
When I arrived here in 1993, this is how you did your grocery shopping: You left your house early in the morning with a net bag, and first you headed to the outdoor market in the piazza where you picked up your greens, fruit, flowers, and the local gossip. Then you headed to the butcher’s for your meat, and the local gossip. Then the fish shop for your fish, and a side of gossip. Then the cheese shop, the fresh pasta shop, and the bakery…where you caught up on the gossip. Then, for your very last stop, you dropped by the little local family-owned store for sundries like toilet paper and raisins and any gossip you may have overlooked. And, if you were lucky, you got home by noon.
Now you go to the Ipercoop superstore along the highway and in half an hour buy all of the above. And get your gossip off Facebook.
When I arrived here in 1993, this is how you saw a movie: You went to downtown Perugia (our provincial capital, aka The City), where the four movie houses were. You started at one end of the Corso and checked out the posters outside the Cinema Modernissimo but decided to have an aperitivo and a chat instead. Afterwards you headed to the Cinema Turreno to see what was showing there and before the show stopped into the Pizzeria Mediterranea for a quick margherita. Then, since you missed the beginning of the show, you ambled down the street to the 18th century Teatro Pavone where, on the nights they didn’t have a concert or play scheduled, they might show a movie. And on the way you popped into Pasticceria Sandri for a pastry, thus missing the starting time there as well. So you ended up at the Lilli, where you grabbed a quick espresso from the bar next door and settled in to watch whatever was on that night. And halfway through the movie you felt raindrops hitting your face and looked up in surprise, forgetting that they had that really cool 1940’s retractable roof which they would open on summer nights.
Now you go to the Warner Village Multiplex along the highway, where they have 10 different movies going on pretty much every hour all day and night, and you eat popcorn and drink Coke.
In light of all this modernization, the opportunity to see how things used to be done seem more rare with every passing year. Another example is the corredo, or traditional trousseau, which was a collection of high quality household linen–including table linens, towels, bed linens, and quilts–which a young woman would assemble in her youth and as a bride would use as the cornerstone of her new household. The contents of what we in the midwest once called a “hope chest” were generally high-end handwoven cloth, expensive and acquired with care and patience over many years. Now, of course, the couple registers at a department store or, even more often, lives together for years before marrying and thus has already collected all the household linen they may need.
The demand for this type of superior quality cloth has declined in step with the decline of the traditional corredo, which is both a shame and what makes Brozzetti Laboratorio di Tesseratura a Mano (or weaving workshop) in Perugia so unique and so worth a visit.
Housed in the oldest Franciscan church in Perugia, la Chiesa di San Francesco delle Donne (1212), this artelier was founded in 1912 by the formidable Giuditta Brozzetti. One of the first modern female entrepenuers in Umbria, Brozzetti criss-crossed the region copying and conserving traditional motifs taken from decorations found on Etruscan tombs and pottery, details from medieval and renaissance cloth, and iconography from works of religious art from little known churches spread out across the region. Many of her original handmade sketches are remain on display, and these geometric and stylized designs are still incorporated into the workshop’s pieces.
Today the Brozzetti family is in its fourth generation of craftswomen, who continue producing hand-woven fine jacquard cotton, linen, silk, and wool cloth on antique wooden manual looms, many dating from the 19th century.
A visit their workshop is simply captivating…the loud click-clack of the looms working, the gentle light filtering through the enormous apse window, the stylized patterns of griffons, pomegranates, and twisting vines in all imaginable shades of color.
In this a-changin’ world, it’s a rare gift sometimes to be able to peek through the window of time and get a glimpse and what we have, tragically, lost.
Photographs of Brozzetti Laboratorio di Tesseratura a Mano were used with permission by Marit Alanen: photographer, artist, writer, and traveller. “You drink too much, you cuss too much, and you have questionable morals…You’re everything I ever wanted in a friend.”