Thursday, September 12, 2013

Fondazione Arte della Seta Lisio

The Duomo in Florence, Italy
This past June I had the privilege of travelling to Florence to take a one week workshop at the Fondazione Arte della Seta Lisio. There were only three students - myself and...shown below on the right...Abbas Kahn from India and Georgia Hughes from England.....
and two very knowledge, flexible and accommodating  teachers - left to right - Julie Holyoke and Eva Basile. Julie has recently authored a book, Digital Jacquard Design to be released in the UK in October 2013, and in North America in December 2013. My main goal was to become familiar with the whole process as I am an experiential learner 
From the moment I walked into the Fondazione Arte della Seta Lisio, I felt it was a great honour to be there and to see these remarkable jacquard  looms in operation, along with being surrounded by all its history, tradition and its heritage.   I was even more astounded that I had a chance to weave on them. Lisio has created fabrics for many powerful and wealthy individuals and for theatre and movie sets. 
Lisio created the fabric for Elizabeth Taylor's dress for the movie the Taming of the Shrew. 
Gian Paoulo Cerchiarini weaving a voided velvet. 
It required a certain amount of physical effort to weave with the ‘manual’ jacquard loom. This gave me greater appreciation for the work it took to weave velvet, both in preparing the cards and the weaving of it.
Velvet requires a minimum of 2 warps. Here we see the second warp (the one used to create the pile in velvet) and how each thread is attached to a spool. It required a certain amount of physical effort to weave with the ‘manual’ jacquard loom. Until  1990 the Telaio Serenissima had been in storage for 20 years and it took the Fondazione four months to restore it.  It had originally been used by Giuseppe Lisio (the founder) in 1925 for the production of 3 warp velvet, the most highly prized fabric made by Lisio. It has 12,000 silk warp threads, 2000 punch cards and while I was there, the punch cards were being prepared for a new design, shown below.

Velvet was not the only think being woven at Lisio. Here Marta Valdarni weaves what is called a Cloth of Gold (and Silver), highly prized during the Renaissance and still highly esteemed in liturgical communities. These kinds of textiles are used to create garments for priests, bishops, cardinals and Popes of the Roman Catholic Church (and quite possibly other religions).
Each shuttle weaves either a gold or silver sun shape, and are worked individually, like a tapestry technique. In between each row of pattern show, 3 to 4 rows of background weft are woven. Marta's loom was powered and she used a flying shuttle.
I created my own design for the jacquard loom shown here. Eva helped me each step of the way. By the middle of the week I was done and ready to experience the powered jacquard loom.  We selected an image from my files and we again went through the process of preparing the point sheet on the computer, but this time, no cards were required. The software would allow us to weave the design directly. I worked with a flying shuttle for the first time and I loved it. Each weft was programmed and pressing on the powered pedal raised the correct threads in the warp to create the image.
After my course I went to the Uffize gallery, the Pitti Palace, the Costume gallery....where I saw many paintings that painstakingly rendered the rich and sumptuous textiles (velvets, damasks, gros de tour etc) of the period and from which Lisio took his inspiration. In this portrait of Eleonore of Toledo with son Giovanni by Bronzino, one feels you can almost touch the actual velvet. Every loop, every pile and the glistening of the silk seems so real. Many other painters such as Gusto Sustermans, Van Dyck, Titian, Rubens, Rafael, Signorelli, abd Botticelli to name a few, also rendered textiles superbly and convincingly. 
I was awestruck by this sculptured detail of a fabric (damask) in a monument in Sta Croce, the church that has many tombs and monuments to great thinkers and innovators of every domain.

In closing I am hoping to return and bring with me other students who want to share this unique and inspiring experience. A maximum of 5 to 6 students at a time and the workshops will be offered in the summer. If you think you are interested contact me (Line Dufour) at

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