Matteo suggested we visit Rocca Paolina, the 16th century fortress in Perugia, the capital of Umbria in central Italy. I thought it would be like all the other castles I’ve encountered in the past. I assumed we’d climb up the keep, gaze at the view from the wall-walk, and peek thorough the murder holes, imagining myself shooting arrows through them.
I certainly didn’t expect to explore underground tunnels around the foundations of the fortress. Reveling in the cool air, we explored the meandering tunnels, learning about their intriguing history. We could have easily spent another hour underground, enjoying the refreshing temperatures, but we had more on our agenda.
Our next stop was the aqueduct, another must-see according to Matteo. It involved climbing steep hills and endless steps. Though once more, I was hot and sticky, reminiscing over visits to similar sites during my childhood, I enjoyed explaining its purpose and workings to Daniel, Molly, and Slav, my fellow travelers.
But both the castle and the aqueduct were mere distractions on our way to our ultimate destination—the Guiditta Brozzetti workshop, a hand-weaving museum and school.
I’d made the appointment to visit the studio months earlier. A textile aficionado, once I made the decision to travel to Perugia for Matteo and Laura’ wedding, I searched the internet for textile-related landmarks in the area. And there it was: http://www.brozzetti.com/index.html , the website of Laboratorio Guiditta Brozzetti, located in the imposing church of San Francesco delle Dome.
Finding it was not straightforward—when Daniel’s GPS claimed we arrived, we had to study our surroundings for a few minutes before we spied the faded sign directing us to the entrance.
A diminutive pixie with close cropped gray hair and bright red lipstick greeted us at the door—Marta Cucchia. I wasn’t sure of her position. Curator? Manager? Teacher? I quickly learnt that she played all those roles and then some.
Marta is a lovely strong woman, a doer, vested in her life’s work. Marta, like her mother and grandmother before her, follows her great grandmother, Guiditta Brozzetti’s, footsteps, working towards preventing old textile techniques from dying out.
Guiditta Brozzetti used to collect traditional hand-woven textiles from the poor peasants in the Umbrian countryside. She helped supplement their meager incomes by selling the textiles in Perugia. Later, Guiditta Brozzetti opened a weaving school for women interested in learning a trade. She hoped her students would work towards continuing the Umbrian weaving traditions. Now, Marta and her students, like the students in the original school, use wooden four harness looms to replicate these same traditional textiles. Marta often uses patterns she reproduces from those depicted in old paintings.
In addition, in order to bring the glorious medieval damasks back to life, Guiditta Brozzetti transformed some of the school’s four harness looms into Jacquard looms (invented by Joseph Jacquard in 1801).
(Until 1800, the only way to create damasks and other complex patterns, was by picking up threads by hand. Jacquard’s invention automated the process, making these beautiful textiles available to a broader market.)
Marta, sharing her great grandmother’s vision, uses old wooden Jaquard looms (I forgot to ask if they were Guiditta Brozzetti’s original looms.) to weave stunning pieces, some depicting mythical creatures such as griffins as dragons, others covered with images of twining vines, and other local flora. Like her great grandmother, Marta, hoping to prevent the art of damask weaving from falling into extinction, teaches the techniques to students, in classes and workshops, and offers apprenticeships.
I was reluctant to leave. I had so much to learn from Marta. I could have spent hours there, talking to her.
I consoled myself by purchasing two fabulous pieces. I rationalized going over my budget for the trip by telling myself that I’ll need samples when I write an article about my experience for my column “Textile Techniques from Around the World” in the WARP (http://weavearealpeace.org/) quarterly newsletter.
Resource: Bombelli, Clara A.Baldelli, Arte Tessile Cultura E Tradizione Umbra: Laboratoria Giuditta Brozzetti 1921-2001, Italgraf, 2001.