Italian handcrafts: The Textiles of Longobucco
- WTI Magazine #103 May 19, 2018
The origins of weaving in Longobucco are ancient and common to other areas of Calabria. It is said that inhabitants of the coasts of Calabria were taken as prisoners in raids by Turkish pirates. After a long period spent in the countries of the east, some women managed to return to their places of origin and brought with them the art of weaving, and cloth decoration in particular.
This is according to legend, but Longobucco has a well-documented history. Various poets, including Padula, De Giacomo and Corso, who ventured into the small town in La Sila, left precious accounts of the splendour of the weaving in Longobucco in ancient times, praising the characteristic designs and colours of a textile craft that was quite unique.
Longobucco is one of the few areas in Calabria where people still work using the old hand looms.
The outstanding products of Longobucco’s textile art are its blankets. Blanket weaving is very ancient here, and no precise period can be established for the start of this type of work, due to a lack of written and oral accounts. What is certain is that this type of manufacture was not imported from elsewhere, but developed from local wool and silk weaving.
Without doubt, the first blankets would have been made in a rudimentary manner, with little perfection, due to the lack of designs, which became highly developed over time through the industriousness and talent of the housewives of Longobucco.
A full-size Longobucco blanket consists of five concentric patterns: in the centre is “u sìattu”, a background design that covers about two-thirds of the textile and is framed by the other four types of design, known as “u parafilu”, “a guardiédda”, “a greca” and “u pizzìattu”. A fringe, always made by hand and on the loom, is also sewn along the edge of the blanket.
Three different techniques can be used to weave blankets on the looms of Longobucco: relief or “pizzulùni,” flat or “trappìgnu” and “a ri pìari”. A fourth weaving method, known as “cucchìdda”, has now disappeared. Examples of blankets woven with this technique, which was only used for making geometric figures, are very rare.
A popular song praises the blankets of Longobucco as the most beautiful of all, exceeding even the beauty of the sun: “Cuverte chi nun hannu li mercanti,bellizze chi nun ha mancu lu sulu / haju giratu da Napuli avanti,cuverte cume cchiste un ci nna sunu!” (Blankets that merchants do not have, beauty that not even the sun possesses, I have wandered to Naples and beyond, but blankets such as these cannot be found!)
The particular feature of the fabric made on the Longobucco looms is the way in which it is decorated. The motif produced on the fabric is not embroidered but is part of the fabric itself: in addition to the common weave of the threads (warp and weft), a third thread is inserted horizontally across the warp threads.
To achieve this, the weaver uses “nziambri”, or “guide-patterns”, composed of small extruded squares, which guide the weaver while weaving the threads. The designs are the product of the imagination of the weavers, who were inspired by the variety and colours of nature and by popular folklore. Some “nziambri”, fundamental tools for reproducing a design, are jealously guarded by certain weavers so that they will never be copied.
One of the most popular designs is “U puntu eru Juriciu” (the “Judge’s Stitch”). It is said that a mother created this design for the Longobucco loom to repay a debt to a judge who had ensured justice was done to her wrongly accused son. It features a pair of scales formed by a saw, a tree and two vine branches and two doves.
The saw symbolises the clean cut of justice, the tree is the symbol of life, longevity and strength, the two vine branches with bunches of grapes symbolise joy, the scales that they form are the symbol of justice and the doves are the classic sign of peace.
Longobucco has always been known for the industriousness and ingenuity of its inhabitants. The women in particular have contributed to the region’s domestic economy, taking care of the children, preparing food, gathering firewood, picking olives, cultivating vegetable gardens and transforming weaving into a genuine art.
Longobucco is one of the main municipalities of the Sila National Park and in terms of its territory is one of the largest in Calabria. It is a small town in the heart of Sila Greca, part of the Greater Sila Plateau, in the midst of mountains, rivers and lakes that are home to numerous species of animals and plants.
According to legend, the name “Longobucco” originates from metallurgic Themesen mentioned by Homer in Book I of the Odyssey. This suggestion is due to the presence of silver mines along the Manna stream, which were worked by Sybarites, Crotonians and then Romans since the 8th century BC to produce coins.
by Camera di Commercio di Cosenza