This presentation will be September 15, 2021 at 6pm San Francisco time. The event is free, but you must register to attend.
Join me online for this free event to explore the indescribable beauty of Sardinian handwoven textiles, see the loving and painstaking artistry of their creation, meet the tessitrici artigianali — the unique women weavers who maintain the tradition of a nearly-lost art — and glimpse just a bit of Sardinia’s majesty.
I’ll discuss the importance of the handmade, the relevance these women, their weavings, and their traditions have in our modern world, and the anima (spirit) of Sardinian handwoven textiles. I’ll share portions of my film as well as photos, stories of the weavers and my adventures on the island, and show some of my personal textile collection.
Your phone, your computer keyboard, your desk? What else? Do you even recall?
This morning: What do remember feeling, experiencing, touching?
Your hands: What textures did your hands encounter today? A surface that is scratchy, bumpy, unfamiliar? Or just the predictable smooth metal and glass of a gizmo, surfaces you touch to use but otherwise ignore? Did you notice any feeling in your fingers, or did you merely use your fingers to do things automatically, not focusing on your fingers and what they touched but on the tasks for which your fingers were the unacknowledged tools?
When did you last touch something made by nature, in its natural state?
When did you last bend to collect a pebble from the seashore or kneel to retrieve a fallen leaf on a hiking path? When last did the skin of your bare hand feel the texture, the temperature, the heaviness, the lightness of a tiny treasure?
When did you last wear a woolen sweater knit by an aunt, and run your fingers over the rough strands of the yarn as you rolled the cuff?
When did you last lean back on a wooden chair handmade by an artesian, and rub your palms on the armrests to feel the smoothness?
When did you last think about the hours and days it took to make such an item, contemplating the love and skill put into every stitch of the sweater and every sandpaper-swipe that went into polishing the chair?
When have you even thought of who — or what — made the items you use, the objects you touch each day, all day?
Most of us in today’s tech-focused Western world touch only machine-made items. We don’t generally think much about where or how they were made. The predictability and monotony of what we touch has made us callous (pun intended).
We’ve lost the sense of touch and the sensibility of touch. By dissociating ourselves from what we touch, we constrict ourselves and our world, ultimately disconnecting ourselves from what touches us. The world becomes senseless and spiritless.
Touch is human. We need to pay attention to what we touch, and we need to bring objects from nature and items crafted by loving human hands back into our everyday lives. More than needing objects — faster, sleeker, improved, enhanced objects — we need objects we can truly touch, and we need to be able to sense those objects on more than a superficial level.
Touching, feeling, and contemplating handmade and nature-created objects awakens our own sense of touch, expands our physical and emotional capacity to feel, and helps us connect with our individual and collective spirit.
Each of us and every thing carries an essence, a spirit. The ancients knew this, the mystics know this, and the artists know this. However, most of us forget that each thing and every person contains an essence — if we even knew this to forget it! Moreover, it’s easy to forget this when we forget how to touch. If we’re not aware the surface of what we touch, we can’t feel the deeper essence of what we touch. Everything we touch then seems flat, undifferentiated. We ourselves lose our dimensionality, our essence.
I have often suggested to friends that they keep a special rock, twig, or feather on their desk, and take breaks to consciously feel the item, or even to just hold the item when on calls and in meetings. Similarly, I suggest cultivating and actively using a collection of handmade items, including clothing, rugs, and pottery made by those we know or artisans from local or traditional cultures. These handmade items carry the essence of the maker: the care, consciousness, and love the maker has for their craft permeates each object they makes. This essence is tangible and it touches us — if we allow ourselves to feel it.
This essence of care, consciousness, and love is what we’re missing in the world today, whether we’re conscious of it or not. Making and using handmade items is a tangible way to bring some of this back.
In Sardinia, handweaving is an ancient and revered art, one so complex and magical that legends say the Jana (fairies) taught Sardinian women how to construct looms and weave.
The version below is translated from the story as written by Bruna Cossu and posted on her Facebook page Brujana. With her permission, I’ve translated her words and posted both the English and Italian versions on this website.
Once upon a time, an eternal god was flying through infinity. The god was omnipotent yet also very bored. It seemed to him that the greatest happiness would be to have desires. He began to search for Earth and humans, because he knew that humans were the best suited to dream the impossible.
However, once he found Earth, he discovered that humans had not learned to dream. The planet’s population was like a swarm of ants: the men fought amongst themselves and sought to complicate their lives in all ways, yet they had not learned to dream. They did everything except dream.
Then the god, determined, said: “I will be the first man to dream”. He searched all over the earth for an uninhabited place where he could live alone, and he found it in a small island in the the shape of a footprint: Sardinia. This island was still wild, full of rocks. The god concentrated and made himself into a man, but he chose to make himself old, because in order to have desires, he would have to make effort.
On the island, he had at his disposal stones, cork trees, and a swarm of bees that followed him everywhere. Understanding the nature of what he had available, he assembled it: With simple human arms, he constructed the first hive, thus solving the issue of hunger.
One day, while sleeping, the god was disturbed by a bee. With an involuntary swipe of his hand, he shooed away the bee. However, in doing so, the god let fly a spark of divine power. In one instant, the entire hive was transformed into a group of incredibly small goddesses: The Janas were born.
These Janas occupied the human dimension by pretending to be women — and being prophets by nature, they knew that human women would soon arrive on the island. In the meantime, the Janas dug houses out of the rocks and furnished them, always play-pretending at being women in the same way young girls play at being women.
One day, the first human ship arrived on the horizon, from an uncertain location, and bearing an unknown people. It was a rude group, wild, a bunch of warriors. The Janas immediately became interested in the women and flew among their heads, convincing them to leave the heavy work to the men.
In this way, women finally entered the world of the Janas, where the women learned to spin and to weave at looms prepared by the fairies who had been bees — fairies who had an innate, genetic understanding of geometry, and who constructed looms with extreme rigor and precision. And the women themselves brought an essential quality: Patience. Working together, the rigor of the Janas and the patience of the women fostered the ideal conditions for the birth of creativity.
And so was the beginning of how Sardinian women came to weave their rhythmic, symbolic textiles, weaving even today as they did then.
Note: Sardinia’s tessitrici artigianali — the women weavers who work by hand in the old ways — are truly extraordinary, and rare. Only a handful remain working as professionals on the island. Learn more about these unique, independent, and wonderful women on the Sardinian Arts page Meet the Artists, which is a portal to their work and contact information.
I’m thrilled that awareness grows about the handweavers and their art, as this helps build a sustainable future for handweaving and handweavers in Sardinia! I was also happy to learn that the article was in great part inspired by my documentary I Want to Weave the Weft of Time.
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.
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.