Sardinia is where I feel most at home on this planet: I melt into the land, the sea, and myself. Friends see this, and, like others, they’re mystified, as my genetic heritage is obviously not Sardinian, or even Italian.
“What drew you to Sardinia? What drew you to the weavers? What’s your connection?”
I hear these questions often, and the answer is simple — and not.
The short answer is “Good fortune, synchronicity, karma, and grace.”
The long answer, of course, is more complex, bringing together events of many times and places.
Long-ago events form the foundation (or warp, to use weaving terminology) of the story, completed by more recent story-threads (the weft) .
More weft-stories have been woven; I will write them some time!
The Warp (Foundation) of the Story
When I was a kid, my parents loved to travel, explore, and meet new people, and our summer drives across the United States fostered my own appetite for adventure, desire to travel, and sense that I would someday live outside the US.
My mom, also adventurous and inquisitive, was resourceful, smart, and had what I call a genetic predisposition to design and engineering, which both my brother and I inherited. She could — and did — design, make, and/or fix pretty much anything and everything. She had worked as a layout artist before we kids came along, and afterwards, her love of sewing and the articles she created were the most common expression of her talents. She made most of her own clothes, many of mine, and upholstered, refinished, and transformed furniture. While I preferred playing sports and was not interested in sitting behind a sewing machine and thus (sadly) never developed my mom’s skill and patience, I did learn her sewing techniques, how to do other things precisely, and acquired an intense love and appreciation of fibers, fabrics, and textiles. I was intrigued by the patterns, the precision, the mathematics hidden in weaves, and mesmerized by the feeling of fine textiles — especially when they were woven or sewn by hand. Even as a toddler, I was drawn to the feeling of bedspreads my mom had at the time: the bumpy, precise patterns had a special feel unlike anything else. I acquired the appreciation for handmade articles and the uncanny ability to sense a handmade article at a distance.
This passion for textiles was mostly hidden until I went to college. My choice to major in graphic design surprised friends and family: I had been a very academic student in high school, then graduated early to play a sport professionally — certainly a major surprise to my teachers! — and after a few years, finally went to college to study art . . . and my favorite class was weaving?!?!
While at the University of Arizona, I had the great fortune to study with Gayle Wimmer, a well-known fiber artist and Fulbright Fellow who had worked with weavers in Italy, Poland, France, and Israel. Gayle and her classes were my biggest influence while I was at the U of A, and she became a friend and mentor of sorts. I qualify “mentor” only because while I loved weaving and fiber arts, I felt that it was not my calling to be a weaver — yet I knew somehow, weaving and fiber arts would play a significant role in my life. Later, I thought, perhaps I would collect rugs, not so much for the objects themselves, but as a way to honor the women who made them, and the work of the heart that went into the textiles.
I also studied a great deal of film history and photo history, even though I could not afford to take photography classes. Those were the days before digital, and the cost of cameras, 35mm film, paper, and developing solution was beyond my means. It would be later in life when I began my work in video and photography, for in university I could barely cover the cost of the special paper, markers, Exacto knife blades, and Letraset (go look up that word!) necessary to my graphic design studies.
In college, I also learned that the design style I had acquired from my mom and her brother — my uncle took me to his university design classes and started giving me his old Graphis magazines when I was about six years old — was considered “Swiss school” or “Italian school”. I thought this clean, simple, functional style was merely good design. My professors and other students disagreed. My final project was an identity kit for a fictitious Italian furniture maker, which I immaculately designed, precisely constructed by hand, graciously presented — and strongly defended.
I was told I would do well in Europe, but not in the United States. It wasn’t the last time I heard this!
Design style aside, I always felt I would end up living, or at least having a second home, outside the United States. For years, I wasn’t certain where this would be, but I knew it would become clear at the right time. In my travels I considered Kerala, India; but no — the ashram and India was not for me as a home. Touring Europe, I considered various places, yet my first visit to Torino and the Piedmont area in 2003 left me feeling that Italy was too smoke-filled and misogynistic for my tastes.
The threads hadn’t yet together to lead to Sardinia — and one of the most important was a nearly-forgotten recurring dream.
Throughout my childhood, I would often dream of a beach where the water was a deep, clear, unforgettable shade of blue, and the sky was another unique shade of azure. In the foreground, massive rocks tumbled down from my dream-vista to the water. In the distance, yet not too far away, rose the outline of a mountainous island. The beach image seemed familiar — somehow connected to a monastic lifetime — even though I did not know where the beach was, or where I had seen it before. The dream-beach was very unlike the shore of Lake Michigan, just two miles from my childhood home. The beach I saw in the dreams was more like those found in Northern California, but the colors, the rocks, the horizon, the light were not the same. The dream-beach was not a California beach. Nor was it a Hawaiian beach, a Florida beach, an English beach, or even a Greek beach — even though photos I saw of Greek beaches seemed more similar. If anything, I sensed that the dream-beach was in “Italy, but not Italy.”
The Weft (Threads Filling in the Story)
In 2006, a friend introduced me to the music of an amazing Italian singer and mystic. Even though I didn’t speak Italian at the time, I didn’t need to: the heart and soul of the singer, the voice, and the music struck me, took me inside, and eventually changed my life in ways I did not foresee.
After a few years of listening to the music with an understanding of the heart (supplemented by whatever bits of Spanish and Latin I remembered from school, and an occasional translation provided by the friend), I decided to study the Italian language. In 2012, I began studying and visited Milano. The next year, I read my first book in Italian: The singer’s biography. As expected, there were many words, phrases, and places I did not know and couldn’t understand by context.
Google and Wikipedia became my constant companions as I searched for definitions and place names: Sardinia — I knew where that was — but within Sardinia, Gallura?
I googled. I clicked a link in the search results. A new page opened. Electricity jolted up my spine, and my breathing stopped.
As requested, I will be leading tours of artist studios in Sardinia. Of course, given the travel restrictions and complications of 2020 and 2021, the tours have been postponed until borders are open and travelers feel comfortable heading out on new adventures.
Tours will be semi-custom or custom, and include visits to the studios of the tessitriciartigianali featured here, Sardinia’s weaving museum, and time at beautiful beaches, meals at superb restaurants, and visiting other locations within Sardinia.
Having spent a good deal of time in Sardinia and with the weavers, I can show you the island, introduce you to the women, explain the weaving techniques, and translate language and culture in a way that helps you best appreciate and most deeply connect with the weavers, Sardinia, and her culture.
If you’d like to join me in an upcoming tour, please contact me.
Fine handwoven Sardinian 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.
I 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. I 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.
I don’t want to do that. The beautiful handwoven textiles of Sardinia offer a portal to a connection we all seek, and I honor this. It’s part of what I consider fair trade.
Please contact me if you want to know more and experience the textiles.
This has been evident in food as well as textiles across the world. For instance, when you think of cheese you might sprinkle lightly over pasta, do you think of a green can of Kraft Parmesan cheese sprinkles, a bag of shredded Parmesan cheese, or a heavy round of solid cheese inscribed Parmigiano Reggiano DOP?
Ensuring the foods are classified and clearly labeled ensures buyers know what they are purchasing, where it was made, how it was made, and what ingredients the food contains. These factors drive, and help the buyer understand, the fair price range for the food. Obviously, Parmigiano Reggiano DOP is going to cost more than the green can of cheese, and a round made by nonna in her Parma kitchen rarer still, and more costly if were to sell in the local market rather than gift it to you.
Similarly, to protect purchasers as well as the weavers and economy of Sardinia, it’s important that Sardinian textiles are classified accurately with reference to the method and place in which they are made.
The textiles classifications Sardinian Arts uses and maintains are listed below. Any item I offer or discuss is accurately classified with integrity according to this system. I personally visit weaving studios, custom shops, and mills to meet owners and verify how textiles are made. I’m also advocating with weavers and others in Sardinia to adhere to this classification system to ensure the integrity of textiles “Made in Sardegna” and ensure the weavers, producers, and artists of Sardinian are treated with respect and that their items are sold in a fair and sustainable manner.
Hand made, Hand-decorated, and Mill-made Classifications
The classifications are
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 classifications 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”.
If you have any questions about whether the textiles you are buying are handmade, hand-decorated, or mill-made, please contact me.
I Want to Weave the Weft of Time grew serendipitously from the love of weaving, great appreciation of the women who continue the nearly-lost tradition of hand weaving in Sardinia, and the desire to share the art, lives, and importance of the weavers with the world.
When I first went to meet the weavers, I didn’t have a videocamera with me: I didn’t intend to film, much less make a documentary.
I wanted to meet the women who were Sardinia’s traditional weavers, learn about their particular weaving tradition, and bring a few textiles back to the United States. After meeting several weavers across the island, I called Isa and asked if I could return to Samugheo to video her, Suzanna, and Anna Maria. I had only my iPad — not the video cameras I had used to capture documentary footage for other projects! At most, I thought I would film a few minutes of the women working and make a 10-minute video to demonstrate the process of weaving.
I ended up filming for several hours that day, and then returned to Sardinia after a few months to visit and capture additional footage for what I still thought would be a very short video.
In the interim, Bruna had met the Frongias. While she lives in a town an hour or two away, Bruna by chance came to visit the Frongias the day I returned to Samugheo to film. As Isa prepared lunch, Bruna agreed to tell me the story of how she came to meet the Frongias and start to learn to weave. Her talk was entirely spontaneous, and absolutely perfect. I couldn’t have better scripted what she said: It was also what I felt about the weavers, their art, their lives, and the role they maintain, not just in terms of maintaining an artistic tradition, but in propagating a way of life that many in the modern world seek.
We filmed in the studio, with the kitchen (and the sounds of food preparation) above. Months later, when I showed Bruna the finished film, she told me she had completely forgotten that she talked with me! She also didn’t realize that the film’s title came directly from her statement, “tessere le trame del tempo”. Bruna forgot she had told me of the dream, and thought the title a coincidence!
As I was editing the footage, friend Ruth Mendelson – an amazing composer of wonderful original scores for documentaries — saw the draft, encouraged me, and agreed to compose and record the soundtrack. Ruth’s enthusiasm and support propelled me, and the truly heartfelt, complex tapestry of music she scored for the film perfectly captures the feeling of the women, the complexity of the weavings, and the mix of ancient and modern cultures that are Sardinia. Ruth’s score carries the film to a level that’s truly synergistic, much more than the sum of its parts.
I hope you’re as enchanted and moved watching this as we were making I Want to Weave the Weft of Time. The women have adopted me as family, and the film is truly a work of the heart.
We would like to thank you for your participation in Sardinian Textiles: An Exhibit of Handwoven Art and related events.
The show and related events were well-received and brought much attention to Sardinia and Sardinian textiles.
There were about 120 guests at the opening night of the show, arriving from many cities across California and even other states. Paolo Barlera, Director of the Italian Cultural Institute – San Francisco, and Luigi Biondi, the Assistant Consul General, welcomed the crowd and introduced two representatives from the Comune of Samugheo, Deputy Mayor Maurizio Frongia and Cultural Minister Manuela Barra.
Maurizio thanked organizers, presented them with a book of Samugheo’s history and a bar of the local handmade Gaia soap, and talked about the history and importance of weaving in Samugheo. This was followed by the trailer from the film I Want to Weave the Weft of Time, demonstrating the importance of Samugheo’s last handweavers, and a slideshow and discussion of handweaving. After this, there was a short lecture about the show participants, the challenges weavers, shops, and mills face, and a presentation of high-resolution photos of key historic weavings from the MURATS collection.
The audience was captivated by the weavings, and very interactive. People asked many questions during and after the presentation and inspected the textiles on display. The crowd was also happy to be well-fed: San Giuliano of Alghero donated many cases of olive spreads and antipasti, all of which were eagerly devoured along with the kilo of pane carasau direct from Sardinia, sheep cheese, and, of course, wine. Local restaurant 54 Mint also provided Italian desserts, which disappeared rapidly.
In the weeks after the opening there were two film screenings of I Want to Weave the Weft of Time. The first screening was held in lieu of the planned pibiones workshop, as at the last minute the weavers were prevented from traveling by an unforeseen event. Lacis Museum in Berkeley hosted the event. The second screening was at IIC some weeks into the show, to bring a new audience to the exhibit.
Intrecciati, the intercultural project led by designer Silvio Betterelli, drew fibers from locations around the globe, including South Africa, India, Sardinia, Italy, and many states from the United States. Volunteers helping Silvio complete the project included weaver Reba Siero, students Maya Trifunovic and Alex Boccon-Gibod, and their grandmother visiting from Belgrade.
A number of newspapers, websites, and social networking platforms carried short notices and articles about the event, and longer articles appeared in L’Italiano-Americano in the US and a number of papers in Sardinia.
We would also like to thank the volunteers in San Francisco who helped make the event a success. Photographer Flavia Loreto took wonderful photos capturing the opening night (attached). Volunteers Arpana Warren, Mark Springer, Gab Koza, Anne Yale, and the staff of the IIC helped set up the show and opening night. Vera Lazarevic and Gilles Boccon hosted a wonderful dinner (at which Gilles prepared everything from scratch) where Silvio discussed his work and latest collection. Dhanya Olson created the looms for the intercultural project.
In addition demonstrating the interest the public has for Sardinian textiles and Sardinia, the show increased the public’s understanding of the importance of maintaining the traditions, history, and designs of Sardinia, and their support of efforts to ensure the creation of hand-woven, hand-decorated, and mill-produced textiles remains in Sardinia.
As you know, the IIC-Chicago is interested in hosting a similar show in the future; I’m (Kelly) following up with the director to ascertain details of this future project. I’m also developing concrete opportunities to promote Sardinian textiles in a sustainable manner that brings visibility and sales to Sardinia by leveraging the the latest advertising technology.
While the show and the related events are over, the success has opened a doorway that I see as the beginning, an introduction of Sardinian textiles to the United States!
Thank you all for your participation!
Paolo Barlera, Italian Cultural Institute, Kelly Manjula Koza, Sardinian Arts.
vogliamo ringraziarVi per la vostra partecipazione alla mostra, Sardinian Textiles: An Exhibit of Handwoven Art, e agli eventi collegati.
Si è trattato di una mostra esemplare e di una serie di eventi collegati che sono stati ricevuti con entusiasmo e hanno attirato molta attenzione verso la Sardegna e i tessuti Sardi.
I partecipanti all’inaugurazione sono stati circa 120, provenienti da molte città della California e da altri stati. Paolo Barlera, Direttore dell’Istituto Italiano di Cultura (IIC)- San Francisco, e Luigi Biondi, Vice Console Generale, hanno accolto gli spettatori e introdotto due rappresentati del Comune di Samugheo, il Vice Sindaco Maurizio Frongia e l’Assessore alla Cultura Manuela Barra.
Maurizio ha dato il proprio ringraziamento agli organizzatori ed ha presentato un libro che narra la storia di Samugheo e una saponetta Gaia fatta a mano nel paese. Il Vice Sindaco ha parlato della storia e dell’importanza dell’arte della tessitura a Samugheo. In seguito si è svolta la presentazione del trailer del film “I Want to Weave the Weft of Time”, che mostra l’importanza dei tessitori che lavorano a mano. Al termine del film, si è svolto un discorso sulle sfide che i tessitori, i negozi, e le fabbriche della Sardegna sono costretti ad affrontare, oltre ad una serie di foto ad alta risoluzione di campioni di tessuti antichi della collezione del MURATS.
Il pubblico è rimasto affascinato: sono state fatte molte domande dopo la presentazione, e tutti hanno esaminato i tessuti. Gli ospiti sono anche stati contenti di poter godere di un cibo fantastico: San Giuliano d’Alghero ha donato scatole di creme spalmabili di olive e antipasti che sono state divorate con piacere, accompagnate da pane carasau portato dalla Sardegna, formaggio pecorino e, naturalmente, vino. Il ristorante 54 Mint ha offerto dolci tipici dell’Italia, che sono spariti rapidamente.
Nelle settimane seguenti l’inaugurazione, ci sono state due presentazioni del film I Want to Weave the Weft of Time. Il primo al posto del workshop di pibiones che era stato programmato inizialmente, perché all’ultimo momento i tessitori non hanno potuto partecipare a causa di una situazione imprevista. Lacis Museum a Berkeley, California, ha ospitato l’evento. Il secondo si è tenuto all’IIC alcune settimane dopo l’inaugurazione, per attrarre altre gente alla mostra.
“Intrecciati”, il progetto interculturale guidato dal designer Silvio Betterelli, ha raccolto fibre da vari paesi lontani fra cui il Sud Africa, l’India, la Sardegna, l’Italia, e diversi stati degli Stati Uniti. Hanno contribuito a realizzare il progetto con Silvio la tessitrice Reba Siero, gli studenti Maya Trifunovic e Alex Boccon-Gibod, e la loro nonna, che era in visita da Belgrado.
Diversi giornali, siti web, e piani di social networking hanno discusso brevemente gli eventi della mostra e articoli più lungi sono stati pubblicati nel giornale stampato e online di L’Italiano-Americano negli Stati Uniti e diversi giornali e website in Sardegna.
Vogliamo anche ringraziare i volontari qui a San Francisco, che hanno contribuito a fare dell’evento un successo. La fotografa Flavia Loreto ha fatto foto fantastiche dell’inaugurazione (allegate alla presente). Arpana Warren, Mark Springer, Gab Koza, Anne Yale e lo staff dell’IIC hanno appeso i tessuti e hanno messo in ordine tutti i dettagli dell’inaugurazione. Vera Lazarevic e Gilles Boccon hanno ospitato una cena deliziosa (fatta completamente a mano da Gilles), dove Silvio ha parlato della sua arte e la sua ultima collezione. Dhanya Olson ha costruito i telai per il progetto interculturale.
Oltre a dimostrare il grande interesse del pubblico per i tessuti Sardi e la Sardegna, il principale risultato della mostra è stato quello di accendere i riflettori sull’importanza di preservare la tradizione, la storia ed i motivi della Sardegna, e di supportare lo sforzo di mantenere in Sardegna la creazione dei tessuti fatti a mano, a telaio meccanico, e in fabbrica.
Come sapete, I’Istituto Italiano di Cultura di Chicago è interessato ad ospitare una mostra simile a quella di San Francisco; sono (Kelly) in contatto con la direttrice per delineare i dettagli di questo progetto futuro. Sto anche lavorando a delineare alcune ulteriori opportunità per promuovere i tessuti Sardi in modo sostenibile che possa portare a vendite e visibilità per la Sardegna con una nuova tecnologia di advertising.
Mentre la mostra e gli eventi collegati sono finiti, il successo ha aperto una serie di porte e io li considero come un inizio, un primo passo per l’introduzione dei tessuti Sardi negli Stati Uniti!
Grazie a tutti voi per la vostra partecipazione!
Paolo Barlera, Italian Cultural Institute e Kelly Manjula Koza, Sardinian Arts, Inc.
This is one of the educational posters from Sardinian Textiles: An Exhibit of Handwoven Art, held at the Italian Cultural Center – San Francisco in 2017. The text is first, followed by the poster.
There’s certainly much more to discuss about this topic — and I expand greatly on this during my live presentations and in articles you’ll find on this site and elsewhere. Sign up for the newsletter to stay connected!
The loom is the framework on which weavings are made. The basic fibers of a weaving are known as the warp, or foundational threads, and the weft, or the fibers that are drawn between the warp threads.
Textile patterns and designs are created by the interactions of the warp and weft threads. The weft threads can be passed under and over the warp threads in different sequences, wound to create pibiones, or knotted, twisted, or otherwise worked into, over, or under the warp.
Weavings that use raised techniques such as pibiones display several patterns: the raised design and a subtle background pattern created by the sequencing of warp and weft threads.
Textiles created using use flat techniques generally have vibrant designs created by the color of the weft threads.