I'm Sue, a guest writer, and I've just returned from touring Italy with Erica on the Wine to Dye For and Giants of Sardinia tours. I'm from the States, west of Seattle and south Victoria, BC. I confess to being a textile and food junkie – both come from a passion for texture and color – the physicality of the materials I play with. I couldn't live without working with my hands; textiles and food are great playgrounds with luscious results.
I thought I'd literally dyed and gone to heaven on the Wine to Dye For tour.
Dyeing with wine was only a small part of the tour. We visited the Fondazione Lisio in Florence where silk velvet and brocade are still hand woven – soft, silky and fluffy – playing with clouds!
Producing and re-producing woven textiles is a very structured activity, we saw that, as well as wildly creative pieces at the leather school. The students were from all over the world – the mixing and matching colors and texture combinations were fabulous. But I must say my heart and eyes were captured by the mixed leather pieces with ancient and new artifacts combined sometimes boldly and others subtly in very functional handbags with out of this world prices – oh well! Inspiration.
For me this mixture of old and new was the most fascinating discovery during our travels. It was everywhere and not limited to the very expensive. It was very exciting to see younger and older Italians working together – sometimes easily and sometimes not – to preserve old artisanal traditions and at the same time develop products to meet current interests, creating new economies. At a home show in Lucca I met a young woman who, along with her five sisters, had invented a washable paper for new packaging and storage products.
There was also the “Renaissance Man,” Renato, who taught us to make baskets, so talented with his hands that he built a medieval wooden lathe. This connecting past to future has a long history in Italy; in Florence I had a chance to see Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions – originally in wood – precursors to many modern machines including the helicopter!
I also found that many of these artisan entrepreneurs own the entire process from growing/raising, harvesting, processing and packaging – most often family enterprises. This was true for shepherds tending flocks to making cheeses – our cheese, freshly made, was delicious. Farmers who were millers and bakers taught us to make delicious bread; and I met a weaver growing and processing her own flax, spinning (a challenge I could not meet) then weaving it.
A very old way of doing business, new again on a small scale giving the producers total control, except for Mother Nature, over their artisanal products. Most, if not all, are very conscious of sustainability and few have desires to become giant corporations. They still sit down to the tastiest family meals, made mostly of their own and other local products. Home cooked meals – yes, “just like mamma made!” And sometimes now, made by the men in the family.
I got a glimpse of a sustainable, artisanal community and economy not available to just anyone. One you had to be introduced to and Erica does just that. Thinking of that fondente gelato still brings tears to my eyes—sharp, dark velvety chocolate—or the sparkling lemon basil bursting like prosecco bubbles in your mouth.
I thought the Wine to Dye For tour was perfection, but Erica had other ideas, and I can see her point. The new version is more compact, focusing on the contiguous areas of Pistoia and Pescia in Tuscany, with a little foray to Florence for the leather and silk weaving schools. You no longer visit the mountains of the Garfagnana, but her Hanging By a Thread tour in June 2020 is based there. With the help of her Italian friends she has found additional interesting artisans.
I can see I will need to do this tour again with the new producers and making sure to leave time to add a one-day home gelato course to my trip (check with Erica about it).
Tours mentioned in my blog:
Tastes & Textiles: Wine to Dye For
Tastes & Textiles: Sea Silk in Sardinia
Tastes & Textiles: Hanging by a Thread
Giants of Sardinia
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