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Two young silkworm breeders revive an ancient silk tradition in rugged Calabria

by Donata Marrazzo

In San Floro, a few kilometers away from the Gulf of Squillace, in Calabria, a newly-created cooperative has rediscovered the ancient silk tradition of Catanzaro: a city that for centuries had based its economy on silk production.

This comeback of an ancient profession is coinciding with the feeble signals of a recovery in the textile sector. Now Calabria wants to enhance the value of every single stage of the production, from raw materials to silk, wool, hemp, linen and broom spun.

But in order to secure the artisanal and industrial processes, the city needs at least one spinning mill. And they are almost disappeared all over Europe. There are some small plants of this kind in Veneto Region, though, which are reopening.

The outlook for Italy's silk industry is bright right now: 2,600 mulberries (which feed the silkworks) were planted in Valbelluna (in northern Italy). Padua's Agro-Industrial Research Center, the only one in Europe, selects silkworms and guards the eggs. Padua's research center guards 190 silkworm species and 60 mulberry cultivars, and it also studies new applications in the biomedical, cosmetic and pharmaceutical fields.

The precious spun thread is also used as a highly compatible material for human beings: researchers are working on the creation of silk-based contact lenses, artificial tendons, ligaments and vascular implants.

While currently silk production is centered in the northern town of Como, the cultivation of silk worms is recorded in southern Italy as far back as the year 1036.

In San Floro, the agro-textile cooperative “Il nido di seta” founded by Miriam Pugliese and Domenico Vivino monitors the whole process, from the ground to the spun, and it has been trying to set up a spinning mill in the region for a long time. In Mendecino, in the province of Cosenza, there are two intact and working spinning mills of the 19th century owned by the Gaudio company, but they are museum pieces.

Institutions are also studying new investment policies.

The two young silkworm breeders, who came back to Calabria two years ago after studying in Northern Italy, chose to breed their silkworms on 3,500 Kokuso mulberry trees, rented out by the municipality. They extract the thread, process it, and tint it with natural colors obtained from Cirò grapefruit, red onion from Tropea, Rubia Tinctorum root, a particular grass that generates a beautiful red tinge, nut husks and pomegranate.

Recently, during a journey to Thailand, Miriam Pugliese and Domenico Vivino participated in the International Silk Festival of Khon Kaen, and they got in touch with Asian silk producers.

The result of that experience is the twinning with the Thai city of Khon Kaen, and today Asian silk tradition is represented in the Silk Museum of San Floro.

Their main goal is to bring the international silk festival to Calabria region, with the purpose of strengthening the textile tradition of Catanzaro, Borgia and San Floro, historical silk producers.