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In Florence a moving exhibition about the ancient art of textile dyeing

That thin herb, with yellowish little flowers, called “guado” (“woad”, botanical name “isatis tinctoria) has been used since the 13th century by Italian “tintori” (“dyers”) to color the most precious textiles, at least until the 18th century, when it was replaced by indigo coming from Asia and America.

Today, guado has been revamped by Cariaggi Fine Yarns Collection , a company from Marche region, that is increasingly investing in research to go back in using vegetable (and sustainable) dyes.

To the history of the art of dyeing, Cariaggi has dedicated an exhibition, “Tinctoria: la Civiltà dei Colori” (Tinctoria: The culture of colours), in Florence until July 3. The show is organized in conjunction with the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence, the project Distretto Culturale Evoluto of the Marche Region and Oasicolori, a company that deals in the sourcing of dye plants for cultural and production purposes.

Just like Cariaggi itself has been doing since its foundation in 1958 in Cagli (near Pesaro-Urbino) by Aurelio Cariaggi. Now led by his son, Piergiorgio, in 2014 Cariaggi had revenues of €103.5 million and sold its products to 28 countries.

As a member of the Committee of Cashmere and Camel Hair Manufactures Institute which protects the finest textiles in the world, Cariaggi has launched “Systema Naturae,” a cashmere yarn from Alashian region, in Chinese Mongolia, dyed with an infusion of herbs, roots and berries, mixed in various combinations to obtain different colors and shades.

Guado, in particular, was cultivated here in the province of Pesaro-Urbino, and today is processed by a local artisan exclusively for Cariaggi. Last February, Cariaggi signed a partnership with Italian textile company Canepa, to use its patent “Save the Water-Kitotex,” created in collaboration with Cnr-Ismac of Biella: Kitotex is a totally organic and environmentally friendly system that uses a polymer from the exoskeleton of crustaceans, that allows to save the 90% of water consumption and energy compared to other dyeing processes.

All these tales are collected in the exhibition, located in a special place: the Laboratory for Restoration of Tapestries and Carpets of theOpificio delle Pietre Dure , global leader in art restoration.

The exhibition is divided in eight different sections, each one dedicated to a different historical period or a specific subject, enriched by images, videos, music and items.

The itinerary starts with “From Prehistoric to Perkin” section, that traces the use of color from the dawn of human history until the invention in 1856 of synthetic colors by Sir William Henry Perkin, a chemist that discovered the first aniline dye, the mauveine.

Then, “Herbs and colors,” with printed herbariums and botanical plates, and “Florentine artifacts,” with puts on evidence the importance of “guado” in paintings and handcrafts, as historical books on the dyeing art from the Biblioteca Comunale Mozzi-Borgetti of Macerata and precious and ancient altar cloths dyed with guado, kindly provided by Arnaldo Caprai.

The part dedicated to “Tapestries and Carpets,” where visitors can observe the researchers from the institute as they carry out their restoration of a Flemish tapestry that is the subject of the exhibition (“The Battle of Roncevaux Pass,” a 15th century work from the Bargello National Museum, Florence), to end with “Green technologies,” about the revival of vegetable dyes for a more sustainable textile and clothing industry.


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