Ah, the Renaissance! One of the most glorious ages for art and culture in Italy. And for Venetian fabrics, too. After all, this was the time when Venice discovered velvet.
But the city doesn’t owe the success of its textile manufacturing only to the production of this luxury fabric: a central role was played by the raw material itself, silk.
From Marco Polo to silkworms raising: where did the threads come from?
Do you remember Marco Polo? Venice is beholden to him and his travels in the East, because they’re the reason why the city discovered unique textiles and designs. From the Silk Road Marco Polo (1254-1324) took back home various souvenirs, among which silk fabrics. But most of all he opened the way for trades with the Mongol Empire.
This is where Venice imported the raw silk used to produce its first fabrics. But when the Empire dissolved, Venetians turned to the cities and islands on the Black Sea to have some landings for the silk coming from China.
During the 15th century, though, the situation changed once again: silkworm farms started coming on the scene of the Republic of Venice. Not in Venice itself, though: mulberry trees and silkworms would have been packed a little too tight on the islands of the lagoon.
There was enough space on the mainland, though, in particular between Verona and Vicenza. And it looks like here they found quite a snug shelter where to grow, since sericulture remained one of the most important cultivations in Veneto till the 1950s. Indeed, by this time half of the silkworms of Italy had gathered in this region.
But silkworm breeding was only the beginning. Because one needs to know how to pull out that precious silk from cocoons. And Venetians where just a tad jealous of this skill.
From cocoons to silk threads: processing and dying
Their jealousy was so trifling that every single stage in the processing of silk took place in the city and underwent a painstaking control. No, I’m far from overstating it: the government of the Republic of Venice emanated some laws on the quality of silk to use for Venetian fabrics. And named some inspectors to drive out hoodwinkers and fine them.
But that was the only way to make sure its brocades, damasks and velvets were really the best in Europe. So raw silk had to be:
- extracted from cocoons after immerging them in boiling water;
- carefully spinned by Filatori (“Spinners”);
- perfectly whitened by Cocitori (“Cookers”);
- coloured by Tintori (“Dyers”) using the best dyes.
Silk and Venetian fabrics today
The quality of these threads was the basis for the creation of equally refined textiles, as well as the reason why luxury fabrics produced in Venice became so popular around the world.
Today producing Venetian velvets as refined as those made during the Renaissance is still possible – as for example the Inferriata Velvet you see here – but there’s a difference in the raw materials.
Since the 1950s Italy hasn’t produced any silk, so it must be imported from abroad. But some companies have recently started trying to rescue the variety of silkworms that characterised the Veneto region. As we mentioned some time ago, this project to restore the silk production around Venice proves it.
And this may bring back to our region a tradition that represented it for centuries.