Traditional Sardinian handwoven textiles are uniquely beautiful in their design and creation. The artistry and the intrinsic quality of the handmade are apparent. Your appreciation grows when you understand how the weavings are created.
Whether it’s done in the home or studio, handweaving is demanding and time-intensive. It requires patience, engineering skill, and physical strength. Weaving involves many steps, and progress is slow. The weavings are made with care, attention, and respect for the old ways. The results — rugs, tablecloths, bedspreads, pillow shams, bags, and more — are unparalleled.
Traditional Sardinian weavings are patterned with small raised bumps of thread, called pibiones. Each pibione must be counted and wound by hand, one pibione at a time, one row at a time, matched against patterns marked by hand on graph paper. In addition to the raised pattern of the pibiones, the base fibers (warp) of the textile create a second and complementary pattern.
A weaver making a bedspread on a medium-sized loom counts and hand-threads 4800 warp threads, tens of thousands of pibiones, and hundreds of thousands of warp and weft fiber passages — all counted and tracked by hand, eye, and graph paper.
If a weaver looses count of the pibiones or the warp fibers, she must recount from the last known position. And before even starting the actual weaving process, the weaver must set up (warp) the loom, a delicate and precise but demanding process. Looms operate on a system of levers and pulleys which must be perfectly assembled, balanced, and aligned. A weaving can be wrecked by one thread out of sequence, a warp that is a sixteenth of an inch off level, or pulleys that are a tad too tight or too loose.
It’s not uncommon for a weaver to climb on or crouch under looms to tighten, loosen, balance, and align pulleys, levers, and other pieces of the loom. Weavers don’t always sit when doing the actual weaving, and even when they do, moving the beater bar to finish each row of the weaving takes a good bit of strength. Larger looms require two, three, or four standing people to pull the beater bar after each row of weaving is completed.
When you experience the process, grasp the time it takes to weave something by hand, and understand the mental skill and the physical work involved, you appreciate more fully the beauty and detail in each row of an expertly handcrafted textile. The artistry becomes more perceptible, more personal. You realize the finished textile you have in your hands is not just an object, but a creation born of the skill, concentration, and love of the weaver.
About the Artist
Isa Frongia and her studio are the gold standard among a little-known group of artists whose craft is rapidly fading.
A third-generation Sardinian weaver, Isa, along with her mother Susanna and cousin Anna Maria, weave entirely by hand, using traditional methods, looms, and patterns. Their work is truly museum-quality.
Weaving is an ancient and revered art in Sardinia, and in Samugheo, Sardinia’s weaving capital, Isa and Susanna’s studio is the oldest and most respected. Their work has been featured in magazines, newspapers, and documentaries around the world, as well as showcased in the homes of famous clients. They have won awards and competitions. Collectors from Europe, the United States, and the Middle East commission weavings, valuing the Frongia’s skill and commitment to producing the highest quality, especially as the art of and appreciation for fine handweaving are being lost.
When Susanna built a weaving studio open to the public in 1960, her move was considered bold – especially for a woman. Women traditionally wove in their homes, and passed their craft from generation to generation within a family and village. Families were self-sufficient, and every household had a loom on which the women made clothing, tablecloths, napkins, bedspreads, curtains, and other household goods. Items were made with care and consciousness, and often used and gifted at ceremonies marking life events, such as weddings, comings-of-age, and funerals. Handwoven items were treasures used, worn, and valued for carrying symbolic meaning, love, and respect of the recipient and the weaver.
In the 1950’s, power looms and textile mills arrived on the island, and the art of weaving started to decline. Susanna opened the studio as the practical means to support a family and preserve an art: weaving is what she did, and what she and Isa still do. Weaving is their life.
The attitude, skill, and way of life of Isa, Susanna, and Anna Maria are rare today: The number of artists, especially those working in traditional methods, has diminished, and their work is rarely found outside the island.
Most weavers working in small studios today use electric powerlooms, calling their weaving handmade because they stop the powerloom at intervals to perform a small amount of hand decoration before pressing a button to once again engage the automation.
Large mills produce thousands of computer-designed textiles in a single run of an automated loom, providing Sardinian households and the tourist industry with useful, low-cost replicas of traditional Sardinian art.
Isa, Susanna, and Anna Maria weave entirely by hand, in the same studio Suzanna founded more than 50 years ago. They work using the time-honored methods of generations of Sardinian handweavers, producing textiles that display supreme technical skill and bear the essence of their tradition, their culture, and their dedication to the art of fine Sardinian handweaving.
To learn more about the art and process of traditional Sardinian handweaving, see The Art of Handweaving.
If you aren’t certain what the difference is between hand-woven, hand-decorated, and mill-made, this will help you understand:
- Handmade textiles: Textiles made completely by hand, using looms where all the movements and beating are done only by hand/foot, and not by a hydraulic, electronic, or computerized loom.
- Hand-decorated textiles: Textiles made by hydraulic, electronic, or computerized looms, where all the beating is not done by hand/foot. The weavers stops the mechanical beating of the loom to make pibiones and/or add other decoration by hand.
- Mill-made textiles: Textiles made in mills, by hydraulic, electronic, and/or computerized looms with minimum human involvement, and often where many similar objects are produced at the same time.
All the levels permit:
- The use of fibers prepared in mills.
- The use of a sewing machine, if the use is to make seams/hems after the weaving is cut from the loom and the seams/hems are not decorative.
The use of fibers prepared by hand without hydraulic, electronic, or computerized tools can be indicated with the label “Hand-spun fibers”.
To see a selection of our handwoven textiles, see the Catalog page.
To understand even more how difficult this art is, watch the short documentary film, I Want to Weave the Weft of Time (Tessere le Trame del Tempo). This film features Isa, Susanna, and Maria and shows the art of the tessitori artigianli and the importance of what their work and lives brings to the world. You can watch the trailer here.
This newer video about Samugheo shows a bit of the town’s culture and traditions, of course including the textiles. Isa’s studio and the Regional Textile Museum are both shown.
There’s absolutely no way to describe Sardinia’s magnificence.
The land, the sea, the people; the traditions; the food, art, and culture: all are diverse, beautiful, and unique.
Long considered a gem of the Mediterranean, Sardinia is now an autonomous region of Italy, boasting a distinct history and traditions. Phoenician, Byzantine, Etruscan, Roman, Spanish, and Italian cultures have all touched — and been touched by — Sardinia. Prehistoric towers, or nuraghi, still dot the landscape, which ranges from verdant hills to deserts, from deep gorges and steep mountains to the breathtakingly beautiful beaches for which Sardinia is famous.
While Sardinia’s rich cultural history is expressed in the arts, language, and traditions across the island, the beaches are what draw the most interest. In the summer, European, Japanese, and Middle Eastern visitors frequent Costa Smeralda, Costa Paradiso, Alghero, and the many pristine blue and white beaches that claim Bandiera Blu status.
The adventurous venture inland to mountain bike, climb, and hike. A handful explore Sardinia’s traditions and arts in the small towns where centuries-old arts persist alongside modernization.
Sardinian artists are renowned for their work in metal, glass, jewelry, knife-making, and, of course, weaving. Artists traditionally passed a craft from generation to generation within a family and village, but the number of artists working in traditional methods is diminishing. Their work is rarely found outside the island.
The small town respected as Sardinia’s weaving capital lies in the center of the island, nested among hills much like those found in Northern California. Weaving is integral to the town’s history and culture: The Regional Textile Museum was built here to commemorate the art, the town crest incorporates a loom, and walls of homes and shops in the old section are painted with traditional textile patterns.
This is where the gold standard of traditional Sardinian handweavers lives and works.
For more information about Sardinia, for starters, see Wikipedia.
The Sardegna Digital Library has an impressive collection of videos and photos, well worth watching even if you don’t understand Italian or Sardinian languages.
This video about Samugheo shows a bit of the town’s culture and traditions, of course including the textiles. Isa’s studio and the Regional Textiles Museum are both shown.
If you seek to learn about Sardinia through travel guides, please note many guides are dismissive of all but the beach areas.
The best way to learn about Sardinia is to experience the island and her people by visiting!
Sardinian Arts was born out of great appreciation and respect for the art of handweaving, Sardinia, and the tessitori artigianali, the women who maintain the art of traditional Sardinian handweaving.
We support the tessitori artigianali; bring their goods to the States; ensure the women are fairly paid and properly recognized for their art; work to document and preserve their traditions and heritage; and educate the public about traditional Sardinian handwoven textiles as well as the beautiful island and people of Sardinia.
Sardinian Arts doesn’t have push-button online ordering. Here’s why:
As you see from reading through the website, the textiles are made one at a time by the hands of weavers who put their heart into each row and fiber of every weaving. This care and attention imparts a tangible energy into each weaving — and it’s this indescribable quality of love that makes the textiles so special, even beyond the museum-quality refinement of the craftsmanship apparent in each.
This essence, this quality is rare in the modern world.
We want to honor this uniqueness in the textiles, in the weavers, in you who seek to increase and cultivate these qualities in your life and your home. We want to help you find the right textile and offer you a connection to the integral spirit and beauty found in the traditional Sardinian handweavings.
Push-button online ordering breaks the connections. It commoditizes the weavings, annihilates the presence and individuality of the weavers, and turns you into a nameless consumer.
We don’t want to do that. The beautiful handwoven textiles of Sardinia offer a portal to a connection we all seek, and we honor this.
As a kid, I loved textiles and fabrics. My mother was a remarkable seamstress who designed and made her own clothes and could construct anything with fabric. She occasionally ventured into related fiber arts, including weaving, which fascinated me.
When I went to college to pursue a degree in design, my favorite classes were weaving and fiber arts, taught by Gayle Wimmer, an internationally respected artist who had lived and worked with handweavers in Poland, Israel, France, and Italy. Studying with Gayle increased my love of textiles and the art of weaving. My appreciation of handweavers — primarily women — grew tremendously.
Despite my love of textiles, I knew living the life of handweaver was not my path. For many years I admired fine weaving from a distance, not really creating or collecting textiles, yet appreciating and encouraging fiber artists in quiet ways.
I very clearly remember one day having an epiphany: I wanted to invest in high-quality textiles, and, perhaps more importantly, support the women weavers who make textiles in traditional fashion, working in their homes or small studios — a diminishing number of artists who are increasingly rare. The concept was clear, but I wasn’t certain exactly what a plan would encompass, or how to go about realizing it. The idea seemed like something to pursue at some undetermined time in the future.
The idea of working with women handweavers certainly wasn’t on my mind when synchronicity and grace led me to Sardinian textiles, my first encounter with a Sardinian weaver, and the gold standard of the tessitori artigianali.
Serendipity has continued to guide me in this work of love: to recognize and honor the master weavers, to educate people about a wonderful yet little-known art, and to bring expertly-crafted textiles of Sardinian master weavers to a wider audience, so the textiles can live even if — when — the tradition fades.
Thanks for visiting the site, and please, contact me if you care to chat!