We were in the process of organizing our next PDC and searching for an appropriate site. So we sent our talent scout Ignazio, Italian agronomist and founder of the association Laboratorio di Permacultura Mediterranea, on an exploration tour in Salento. Ever heard about this place?
Maybe I should start by saying that this is the part of Puglia region commonly known as “the heel of the Italian boot” and that permaculture courses have never taken place here before! This is actually the main reason why Ignazio and Rhamis Kent strong-willed decided to run a course there.
One day Ignazio jumped on his good old motorbike, a 1985 Ducati of course, and drove all across Salento searching for the right location to host our next class. This undertaking was all but easy, since Ignazio wanted to find not only a nice, suitable location but a whole context meeting the values and principles of the course itself. Two were the fundamental requirements: the respect and love not only for nature, but also for people.
Salento is a very evocative area where a spectacular countryside studded with ancient olive trees surrounds a constellation of picturesque small villages that are partially unknown to the greater public. One of these unknown stars is a village called Uggiano La Chiesa and right there, quite unexpectedly, Ignazio found the perfect place that actually exceeded all his expectations: Fondazione Le Costantine (https://www.lecostantine.eu/).
Le Costantine is much more than a simple farm which would host us and which works according to biodynamic principles in order to facilitate soil fertility and food quality. It is a place where harmony reigns between man and nature, since this is also a socially committed structure that comprises a Steiner school and an educational center where people try to help other people in need by teaching them the rehabilitating and ennobling activity of weaving.
Here we are not talking about mechanical weaving, but about weaving with ancient 4-heddle wooden looms instead.
Weaving has always played an important role in human history. Since the days of Ancient Egypt this craftsmanship characterized by excellent skills of manual ability and creativity has enjoyed great appreciation and respect. It seems that the very first natural fiber used by mankind was that of flax, followed by that of lime and cotton, and finally that of wool and silk. Spinning by hand is a very old technique: weavers used to take a hand of already carded flakes of wool or cotton (carding is performed to eliminate any residual impurity) or some plant fibers previously beaten and wet with saliva and then they used to twist them between their fingers, stretching them out in order to obtain a thread.
In ancient times this operation was accomplished without any tools, but only with the help of the hands or the body, by rolling for instance the fibers between cheek and thigh. Afterwards weavers probably began to wind the obtained threads on a stick that had a weight at one end, thus creating over time a real spindle.
The first wool winders and spinning wheels were invented in Asia in the eleventh century. Only a couple of centuries later horizontal and vertical looms were created and became being used in most continents. It might be hard to believe, but today these old kinds of looms are still in use in many Mediterranean countries like Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Greece as well as in the deepest south of Italy.
Fondazione Le Costantine here in Uggiano la Chiesa not far from Otranto, the most eastern point of Italy, was first established in 1982 by a noble philanthropic family with the purpose to create an agricultural, artisan and educational centre. The property includes the laboratory called “Loving and Singing” where the tradition of weaving with 4-heddle wooden looms is still being handed down to new generations, helping them during their human and cultural growth.
The professional training for young adults is aimed at increasing the required skills and knowledge for a conscious access into the world of work. There are weaving courses for private individuals who wish to approach this technique as a hobby or profession, and also trainings requested by public authorities, educational institutions, mental hygiene centers and therapeutic communities.
The hand weaving laboratory was opened in November 2002 following the decision of the Foundation Board of Directors. Its establishment has allowed and facilitated the resumption and appreciation of a precious tradition, bringing it back to life and giving an occasion for spiritual and economic fulfillment to the youth of the surrounding villages.
The current weaving activity basically resumes the ancient practices of indigenous peasants that used to weave on Penelope´s looms some rustic canvas for family needs (sheets, towels, small and rare decorative artifacts) and panniers to be offered during the betrothal, according to the complicated etiquette of agricultural wedding rites.
In order to guarantee the highest quality, all products are handmade by using natural fibers (wool, linen, silk, cotton, cashmere, hemp) in natural colours or with vegetable dyes, paying a particular attention to details and finishes. These superior quality products are marked with labels attesting their excellence. Products´ size, material and design can be customized to meet the needs and tastes of the most demanding and exclusive clientele.
When Ignazio came back from his Salento tour, he couldn´t be more enthusiastic about discovering Fondazione Le Costantine and its laboratory that recovers ancient traditions and techniques. He just kept on drawing a parallel between the goals of our association and those of the Fondazione Le Costantine. As a matter of fact both their laboratory´s work with the looms and our permaculture design courses are aiming at weaving nets. Well, they help others by teaching them how to weave net clothes, whereas we weave a great human network by teaching permaculture principles. So in the end all of us are trying to connect people in order to better address everyday´s challenges together.
Well, dear reader, I am glad to tell you that this is in the end the amazing place that will be hosting the next PDC to be held by Ignazio Schettini and Rhamis Kent from 11th to 23rd October 2015.
Don´t miss the chance to join the class and make a special gift to your mind, body and soul – this will be an incredible experience for cognitive richness and awareness. Let´s all weave a great permaculture net together!
For more information about the course and booking please send an email to the following address:
or for the course info pack, please click here.
For those who are into weaving these are the WEAVING TECHNIQUES used by the “Loving and Singing” laboratory at Fondazione Le Costantine :
“A FIOCCO” TECHNIQUE
Traditional double cloth technique called “a grani” (in grains), that is similar to the Sardinian technique called “a pibionis”, but much more sophisticated.
By following the pattern to be reproduced, the second warp thread goes on a piece of iron (whose diameter depends on the textile fibre of the product and on the product itself to be produced). Then it gets unraveled, obtaining in this way an embossed cloth, full or semi-full, mono or bichromatic.
Such manufacturing is suitable for the production of any kind of textile handmade item, but it reaches the highest level of quality in tapestries, panels, valances and centre-pieces, because it allows to reproduce not only geometrical and modular patterns but also big naturalistic sceneries of vegetable and animal kingdoms as well as anthropomorphic ones.
“A PINTU” TECHNIQUE
It is an ancient technique made of geometrical patterns and infinite variations obtained through infinite movements of the pedals and of drawing-in.
The oldest and most flexible drawing-in is that of “punto bisaccia” (saddle bag working) and it is called “punto bisaccia” because it was traditionally used to weave the saddle bag that the women of the Salento region gave – following the complicated peasant wedding rituals – to the groom who would use it over the course of his working life.
Such technique is suitable for any kind of manufacturing, from the carpet to the bag, with any kind of textile fibre and it is traditionally used for the production of blankets, table linens and table carpets, and tapestry fabric.
“A PIZZUDDHRI” TECHNIQUE
Old technique with big and multicolor patterns for which remnants of fabrics, new or second-hand, were traditionally used for the making of rustic mattress covers, doormats or kitchen mats. Today this technique makes for the production of nice and colorful mats for halls and kids’ rooms as well as for tapestries, panels and pillows with simple geometrical patterns.
“A SFILATO SALENTINO” TECHNIQUE
It is a quite recent technique borrowed from the embroidery art. It consists in interweaving and working with the needle and the warp thread, according to the chosen pattern, directly on the handloom, that is, during the weaving of the cloth itself. Such technique is sometimes combined with traditional techniques and used in order to make elegant and refined manufactures such as towels, handkerchiefs, napkins, centre-pieces, lamps and pillows.
Many of the above mentioned manufactures among which the most innovative ones, combine two or more techniques in a dialectic way with unique and wonderful results.
For instance, it is possible to make towels, table linens, curtains and centre-pieces of various kinds, matching different colors and textures with horizontal inserts made with the “fiocco” technique or vertical and horizontal inserts made with both the “pinto” and “sfilato salentino” techniques, which are then enriched by finishing touches chosen among all the available alternatives.