Italian handcrafts: The carpets of Sardinia
- WTI Magazine #142 Aug 18, 2021
In the Oristano area, as in many Sardinian towns, the craft of weaving has always been the prerogative of women, at first mostly for domestic purposes and later as a business activity. The first type of production was mainly to provide for girls’ dowries and was woven at home using a wooden loom, a tool found in almost every house. In the 1960s the entire island was affected by a revolution in the textile sector.
This was due to the efforts of I.S.O.L.A. (Sardinian Institute for the Organisation of Artisanal Labour), which launched a programme of courses to promote the “dissemination and establishment of Sardinia’s craft production and the advancement of artisans through special courses and schools”.
The aims of the initiative were fully grasped in Samugheo, and within a few years, a large group of small businesses was established there that was able to meet various types of market demands. The vitality of these firms soon led to the creation of a commercial network, with carpets becoming their flagship product.
The history of weaving in Sardinia has ancient origins. It bears the influence of other Mediterranean peoples, but has also developed its own specific features. It was customary for each generation of weavers to safeguard decorative patterns repeated for hundreds of years, out of a sense of pride in the preservation of their traditional legacy. These patterns are identical to those found in surviving ancient artefacts, which, due to the perishable nature of the materials and their use, date back only to the 19th century.
Working at the loom was a time of the day when one could “rest”, reflect, daydream and give substance to the need to express the story of the family and hometown.Hence, clear indications are found relating to simple everyday life, portrayed through metaphorical symbols reduced to simple systematic imagery. Figurines and signs are seen that recall the human and animal forms of Nuraghic bronzes, indicating the archaic origin of weaving in Sardinia.
The repertoire of decorative motifs and their combinations is vast, and many of their meanings are no longer known: geometric motifs alternate with those of an anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, phytomorphic, religious or heraldic nature. Tracing the history of each individual motif is a difficult and perhaps impossible task, as they are testaments to historical, cultural and commercial circumstances in which the island connects with ancient realities, whose symbolism it has assimilated while forgetting or changing its original meaning.
Textiles are woven on horizontal looms in the Oristano area. The steps in the manufacture of the products follow a fixed basic pattern, with variations introduced for works made using different techniques.
First the loom is set up by winding the warp material, consisting of a series of wool or cotton threads, which, together with the weft, will make up the structure of the textile. One commonly used weaving method is the “a un indente” technique, achieved by running the weft threads along the warp and then beating them vigorously until they are completely hidden.
Since the colour of the fabric in this case is only determined only by the weft threads, the warp can even be of a different colour, and either plain or mottled with the natural variations of the wool. This type of weaving is commonly used for making large blankets, which are decorated with a technique involving additional superimposed wefts.The form most widely used nowadays, however, is the “pibiones” or “a ranu” technique. This involves the insertion of an additional weft, thicker than that of the base, to achieve a particular relief effect.
Whenever the design requires it, this weft is wound around a special needle placed on the front of the fabric; with the subsequent passage of the shuttle, the thinner weft is thrown in the normal manner and tightened over the previous one, holding it in place. The needles are then removed, leaving ring-shaped grains formed by the thicker wefts on the front of the fabric. A series of weft rows produced in this way creates the ornamental patterns.
The horizontal loom has a very simple structure and its features have remained unchanged over time. The looms of the past could weave textiles up to 75 cm in width, but with the advent of large-scale production, larger frames were built, with widths often exceeding 200 cm. Some parts of the loom are fixed and can be considered as structural elements.
There are also some mobile parts, whose constant movement gradually creates the artefacts. The shuttle is a part unconnected to the structure of the loom that allows the weft thread to be passed through the warp threads. Some looms have mechanical beaters to facilitate the work, although the basic manual operation remains the same.
By Camera di Commercio di Oristano with Unioncamere