Tales of Sardinian weavers

A recent holiday in Sardinia provided an excellent last farewell to summer.

While I left the UK feeling as though autumn was arriving, Sardinia was still hot and bright, with big skies and dramatic scenery.  I stayed in two places (Stintino and Isola Rossa) on the north coast of the island.  Amongst some lazier pursuits, such as gelato-sampling and plenty of knitting (of which more another time), I enjoyed exploring stunning coastlines, gorgeous beaches and dramatic mountain landscapes in two national parks and elsewhere on the island.

Here’s La Pelosa, one of Italy’s most famous beaches, early one morning:

La Pelosa

and a quiet cove in the national park of the archipelago of La Maddelena:

La Maddelena cove

While the beaches draw many visitors to Sardinia, they say that the heart of the island is to be found in its inland communities, where shepherds are still making an increasingly difficult living in remote, often mountainous landscapes.  Of course, with all those shepherds, there are an awful lot of sheep.  Sardinia is well-known for its pecorino cheese, made from their milk, but I was happy to have the chance to find out more about what happens to some of the fleeces, in the little town of Aggius, nestled in rugged mountains in northern Sardinia.

Aggius has long been a centre for rug weaving.  The excellent Museo Etnografico Oliva Carta Cannas, the largest ethonography museum in Sardinia, is based there and tells the history of how local people lived, and many of the local crafts.

The museum shows what life was like for a typical shepherd family in the Gallurese region between 1600 and the present day, including a recreation of the simple two-room living that such a family would have had around 1900.  Most families would have had a loom like this in their home, so they could use local wool to make woven cloth for clothing and household use.

Old loom

They would have carried out the whole process of preparing the fleece, spinning, dyeing it with plant materials and then weaving the wool within the same close community

Plant-dyed wool

Plant-dyed Sardinian wool.

Weaver photo

Archive photo of a weaver in Aggius.

Sardinian woven fabrics

Traditional woven fabric.

Today, Aggius still has artisans using traditional methods to dye wool and weave rugs with looms which are similar to those used by those shepherd families.

Today's weavers

It was interesting to see how this process was so rooted in people’s everyday lives then and is still carried on using traditional techniques.  Sardinia has a very deep rooted folk culture, with its own language (Sardo, which is apparently very similar to Latin), as well as fascinating music and dance traditions.  I wished that my Italian were better so that I could ask more questions, and I’d love to go back to find out more.

“What about knitting, with all those sheep?”, I hear you ask.  I wasn’t able to ask about local knitting traditions, although there was no real evidence of knitted fabrics in the examples of traditional costume that I saw, other than a very fine pair of “matrimonial socks” in the Museum:

Sock "Calze di Matrimoniale"

Sardinia provided a wonderful holiday, and left me ready to embrace autumn and the shiny new pencilcase feelings of September.  Bring on autumn knitting.

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