‘Amazing stories are just around the corner or laying under linen sheets’, says Nadia sniggering at me while telling the story of her granny, one of secrets in linen embroidery and spun. Linen was commonly used in the past by both low and high class families to produce their bed sheets, towels, night suites, baby diapers, curtains, table clothes. Yes there were differences between the farmer’s dowries and the landowner’s, but skills in embroidering were equally great, and they have passed through generations to our current days.
World famous fashion houses took inspiration from anonymous ladies whose skillful hands helped how to preserve this art and, while every woman in the past century was able to sew and needle as a matter of fact, today we label this technique as hobby. Yet Nadia’s intent is by far more honorable: not only she has started collecting all the tissues directly from her beloved grandmother, she has also continued to save big quantities of abandoned old linen canvases from brides chests to granny’s lofts, collecting a quite impressive number of them.
Nadia keeps on talking and rings one bell from the past: >. It all sounds clear, familiar.
Sixty years ago around Massaciuccoli, a lake located between Lucca and the Versilia coast, known for being Giacomo Puccini’s beloved spot in Tuscany, flax was cultivated for family use. At that time marshes were named with numbers - the fifteen, the sixteen - and were crossed by small boats called barchino, a small boat similar to a gondola. Marshes were composed by narrow canals, similarly to Venice. Fernanda, Nadia’s grandmother, managed a tiny grocery shop in a small portion of land between marsh Sixteen and S. Rocchino caves, close to where her husband Guido worked as sand digger (renaiolo). Fernanda would sow year after year flax as trousseau for her next-to-be-born grandchildren - she knew they’d happen, one day, that’s how things were supposed to be.
Fernanda would wait for flax blue flowers to ripe in spring and she would saw them, tightly tieing them into bunches. After a few days of maceration those flowers would be lifted and fought hard against the rocks to decorticate the fibers out of the stems. This process would go on for several days, until a long, clear, shiny and very strong thread would appear inside the stem. >.
Long rolls of fabric between seventy and ninety centimers wide were preserved by families those days, ready to become sheets, tablecloths, towels, pieces for women and newborns. This old tradition has been lost for a while, and that’s when Nadia, a former doctor, decides to start a new activity up, a daily job based on her passion for embroidery and linen and her will to save rolls from decay. She starts then collecting linen rolls from families who had forgot to possess them and about to trash them. She displays today her linens available for sale in a typical neoclassical house-museum of Viareggio where “everybody can see these fabolous pieces as if they were part of a house: laid in bed, hanging as curtains, dressing a table or wrapping a baby cot. That’s how one can understand their value and beauty, that’s how I like it”.
No hurry, no urge to sell, take a seat, maybe sipping a cup of tea and enjoying a delicious homemade cake, like old ladies did in the past. Meeting Nadia does not only mean meeting a fabulous artisan, but also stepping in the past, putting hands on old fabrics, sourcing passion, work and love right from the past.