I have been looking for several years old hand-spun threads that are laboriously found and only in small quantities. Sometimes they are seen by junk dealers or by people who remember that in their attics there were balls of material, materials that survived the destruction, often by forgetfulness, or in rare cases, because it gave them a certain emotional value. Using these old hand-made yarns, I brought to light the work and hands of many women who with patience, tenacity and great skill have prepared these threads for the fabrics of their needs. Canvases that shine with their own light, a light made of wisdom, slowness, emotions, fatigue and a wealth of knowledge that we are slowly forgetting.
Hemp was once grown throughout the Italian part of Switzerland to make textile, rope or tow material. In the mid-nineteenth century, its cultivation began to decline and disappeared definitively in the early part of the twentieth century, mainly due to the import of other textiles (primarily cotton) and to the greater spread of silkworm breeding. Hemp was sown in the spring from April to May depending on the altitude and preferably in wet fields. The adult plants were collected in bunches and left to macerate in puddles or tanks made alongside streams. After 10-20 days the maceration was complete and the bunches were stretched out to dry. The woody stem was then broken, thus removing the textile material. We then moved on to combing (initially with coarse and then thinner combs), to separate the finer from the coarser fibers. The fibers were then wrapped in skein species and were ready for spinning. The best yarns were used to weave linen for personal and household linen, especially shirts and sheets: although fine, these canvases remained rougher than those of linen and cotton.
Taken from “Vocabulary of the dialects of Italian Switzerland”.
The flax was also cultivated in Ticino until the end of the first decades of the twentieth century, especially in the hilly areas. The production was quite limited, as the use was not so much for commercial purposes, but above all for family use. In June the fields for five or six days were tinged with the blue of the flowers. After a few days (seed ripening), the harvest was carried out by separating the seeds (to obtain oil) from the stalks which were tied into bunches and macerated in tanks or puddles along the streams. After eight to twelve days, the bouquets were removed from the tubs and dried. Afterwards the stalks were pounded to break the outside and remove the fibers. The latter were “combed” so as to obtain a kind of skein of fine threads and another part called tow. The fibers were then spun to obtain weaving material while cushions and mattresses were filled with the tow.
Taken from “Quaderno No 7”, Museum of peasant civilization, Stabio.
Nettle, from whose stems an excellent textile fiber is obtained, could be a great resource as a thread with low environmental impact, natural and pleasant to wear. There is no news of this cultivation in Ticino but only in some regions of Italy: in fact in human memory the processing of this fiber is still vaguely remembered. In the last twenty years, also in Italy, various researches have been done also at university level, in the cultivation, extraction and spinning of the nettle thread, but no projects have been carried out. The fiber is soft, resistant, breathable and also shiny. The fiber extraction process is quite similar to that of flax and hemp. We find some very raw yarns from Nepal.
Taken from “Giardini / Nettle textile fiber”, “Various information”.
The broom is a shrub that can reach five meters in height, with simple and scarce leaves and large and fragrant yellow flowers. Unlike other vegetable fibers, it grows spontaneously and abundantly on the hills of the Paolano Apennines and on the Silano plateau. In the past, the plants were pruned in the spring and in August the stems of the plant were cut off. These were collected in bundles and boiled until the thin green outer film began to peel off. Subsequently these bundles were soaked in pools of water for about eight days or until the fiber was sufficiently softened. Later the external part (raw fiber) was separated from the internal one, used to light the fire. The raw fiber was then still beaten to free the fibrous bundles from the cortical tissue. The next step was to card the fiber that was in this way ready to be spun and worked on the loom. With the more robust threads, ropes, bags, pack saddlebags, tea towels, etc. were produced: with the thinnest threads, sheets, towels, blankets and clothing fabrics were woven. Nowadays the production of this thread is practically nothing: the last yarns date back to the forties.
Taken from “Association of artisans” Longobucco, Calabria.