When you think of a weaver, what do you see? An old lady with white hair, a long black dress maybe a bit overweight? Or maybe she’s a pretty young girl with long blond hair, a sort of Rapunzel?
Meet our weaver, Assunta Perilli, a 30-something year old woman with short black hair and a wide smile. I sat down with Assunta recently to laugh, learn, and discover the past, present and future of the weaving world. Assunta lives in Campotosto, in the Abruzzi Region in Italy where a few years ago an earthquake hit, bringing the region to worldwide attention. In a village of a little over 150 inhabitants, not far from L’Aquila, Abruzzi’s capital city, where the earthquake hit, Assunta is giving new life to local weaving traditions, and reviving a dying art.
Assunta was not born to weaving. Her dreams were more in line with the plot of an Indiana Jones film. Indeed, she was an archeologist, specializing in protohistory, until one fateful day when she found a loom while walking through the rooms of her grandmother’s house. She found it amidst a pile of forgotten things. It was old, silent and magical somehow — and like in a movie, when a door opens into another world, the loom became her key to a new life.
Assunta’s early thoughts went something like this: “What can I do with that loom? Who can help me?” She tells me, “My grandmother was dead” — and approaching her grandmother’s weaver friends wasn’t easy. She was too young, and without experience. They asked her, “Why do you want to know?,” and told her. “You’re not able It takes time.” Day after day, mistake after mistake, she won them over, and they started to accept her into their inner circle. Few words were exchanged. They were more used to doing than teaching their art. It wasn’t so special for them. They’d grown up with that knowledge. Now, Assunta tells me, “They are my nonne [my grandmothers]. I call them in that way.” And with time, she tells me, “they started to appreciate me, and I them.” Recounting the death of one of her nonne, Assunta says ”I cried for days after Domenica’s farewell. She was the first to go and she left me that amazing legacy.”
Assunta has played with time, exploiting an archeologist’s mind to connect the past to the future through a nearly forgotten art. “Soon I decided to leave archeology and develop a sort of weaver’s curriculum.” ”Everyday I was using yarn,” she told me, but wondered, “Where is it come from?” And so, she began to cultivate flax, and started producing a traditional yarn, and her own linens with her loom.
It turns out it’s not so easy to produce yarn. “What a struggle! It took me three years to have an acceptable yarn. My grandmothers [would] say, ’Wait [for] the right moment to collect flax’” Assunta explained, describing ae magical moment that they couldn’t describe for her. They would tell her, “Just see” and “I saw, re-saw, and then I tried.” Then, she continued, “I started to teach the little bit I’ve learned” through courses at her laboratory and at local museums. She also travels “abroad” to teach her weaving techniques outside Campotosto. Now a new adventure is underway. Using the yarn remainders of her work, she and her colleague Vittorio Caravilla are giving yarn a second life. “When we make a fabric, at the end, we have many unused yarn. We called it Rifilatura. We are trying to make [something new] out of [this Rifilatura].”
Assunta starts every day with a walk to her laboratory in a place where nothing extraordinary was expected to happen — until one day there was an earthquake and, on another day, a young archeologist discovered a loom.
Assunta has an incredible ability to connect with people — face to face and online. If you read Italian, you can connect with her through her blog, and you can also follow her on Twitter @varnegliu. If you are interested in purchasing her wares, you can contact her directly, writing to firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 0039 3495016240. If you’d like to visit her in person, she is busy daily at La Fonte della tessitura located at via Roma 25, 67013 Campotosto (AQ) Italy.
CONTACT ASSUNTA PERILLI
By Cell Phone:
La fonte della tessitura
via Roma, 25
67013 Campotosto (AQ)
PHOTOGRAPHY courtesy of Assunta Perilli and Rossella Di Bidino
TRANSLATION BY LUCIA PERILLI
ROSSELLA DI BIDINO is an Italian food blogger with a passion for writing (Hemingway and M.F.K. Fisher are points of reference). Rossella was born in Friuli and lives in Rome where she dedicates her time to learning and writing about the complicated art of living and to discovering all facets of life. Her blog is Ma che ti sei mangiato (What have you eaten?).