traveling back in time.

I had originally planned to share the story of our recent Adriatic Explorer cruise in chronological order from start to finish, but today I simply had to jump ahead to the end.

Why?

Well, two reasons really.  First of all, our visit to the Luigi Bevilacqua workshop inspired a craft project that I want to share with you later this week.  And second, I just couldn’t wait any longer to share this post!

People always ask, ‘what was your favorite part of your trip’ and the answer this time is definitely our tour with Luisella Romeo, a private guide in Venice.

Let me start at the beginning.  Shortly after we booked our cruise, Mr. Q was chatting with someone and she mentioned having toured this incredible workshop in Venice where they still make velvet fabrics by hand.  She said it was one of the coolest places she’d ever toured.  When Mr. Q mentioned it to me, I was intrigued.  Right around that same time, not only was I looking into hiring some private guides for our trip but I was also looking for something unique to do in Venice.  Since we were going to be there on my birthday we were willing to splurge a bit on something special.

That was when I found Luisella Romeo’s website.  Her carefully curated selection of tours looked fantastic and her website was so beautiful, so I checked her out on tripadvisor.com.  She had over 650 reviews and every. single. person. rated her as excellent and many wrote positively glowing reviews.  This is almost unheard of, right?  I mean it’s nearly impossible to make everyone happy.  Usually there is at least one incredibly picky customer that you simply can’t please, but not so with Luisella.

So I contacted her via email and asked if she could arrange a tour for us that would include the Luigi Bevilacqua workshop.  Several exchanges of emails later, we had an itinerary planned and everything arranged.

Luisella met us in Piazzale Roma at the end of the Venice People Mover.  The People Mover is a monorail system that has just three stops, the Tronchetto parking island, the Marittima cruise terminal and Piazzale Roma which is pretty much the entry point into Venice for most people.

Luisella was so charming and enthusiastic right from the start.  I knew we were going to have an amazing morning with her.  She started off leading us through the Piazzale Roma which was thronged with people coming and going.  But after just a few moments we were deeper into the Santa Croce neighborhood on some nearly empty … um, what do you call them? surely not streets … alleys?  corridors?  sidewalks?  passageways?

Whatever you want to call them, there is just no other city like Venice!

Luisella led us up to this very unassuming building.  Once there I’m pretty sure she used a secret password or some kind of coded knock on the door.

This reminded me of that moment in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when Willy Wonka opens the door to reveal the magical wonderland of chocolate inside.

Only instead of chocolate, this place was filled with delicious velvet fabrics.

And one of the other things that caught my eye immediately was this old door that was just tucked behind some equipment.

You can probably just imagine how badly I wanted to dig that door out and get a better photo of it (and then possibly tuck it into my suitcase to bring it home with me), but instead I reminded myself that we were there to see some velvet weaving, not a fabulous old door.

Once upon a time there were as many as 1,200 weavers in Venice making silk fabrics.  However, over time such things as Napoleon’s decree that such fabrics should be made in France rather than in Italy, as well as the industrial revolution and the invention of mechanized production methods, contributed to the downward slide of hand weaving velvet out of silk threads.

Then along came Luigi Bevilacqua in 1875 and he saved several 18th century wooden looms from their imminent demise.

It’s tempting to think that I took that photo in a museum, but this is no museum.  It’s a functioning velvet weaving workshop.  There were a couple of women working on the looms while we were there, although I didn’t take their pictures.

One of the many challenges facing the Luigi Bevilacqua workshop is finding craftsmen who can maintain and repair these looms.  Clearly they need a ‘Ken’, or more accurately they probably have a ‘Ken’ but simply don’t know what they will do when he gets too old to continue working on the looms (I can totally relate to this feeling).

By the way you guys, this was a completely private tour.  It was just Mr. Q and I, our guide Luisella and the Bevilacqua employee who was a lovely woman named Anna who only spoke Italian.  Luisella translated everything for us.

The first thing we saw were all of the patterns.

Don’t quote me on this, but I think our guide said they have more than 3,500 patterns.  The patterns are made with punched holes in cardboard.  Each hole in the pattern corresponds to just one thread.

Honestly, I am totally unable to comprehend how these pieces of cardboard with holes punched in them translate to these gorgeous patterns of velvet …

but somehow they do.

All of the silk threads that are used in making the velvet are hand-knotted onto bobbins, and each bobbin is individually weighted to maintain the proper tension (you can see the little lead weights hanging from each one).

The number of bobbins depends upon the complexity of the design and can range from 400 to as many as 16,000!

And then the weavers take these threads and turn them into this.

It really does seem as though there is some kind of magic at work.

Before the end of our tour we learned the difference between ‘cut’ and ‘curly’ threads.

The ‘curly’ threads are uncut loops of silk while the ‘cut’ threads started out as ‘curly’ threads but were cut by the weaver.  The same color of thread can look so different depending on whether it is cut or curly.

After seeing all that goes in to making this fabric, and learning that a weaver can only produce about 12″ of fabric in one day, I quickly realized that this beautiful handmade velvet was never going to be in my price range.  So I wondered, who buys it and what do they use it for?

Originally the velvet was mainly used for either upholstery, draperies or wall coverings.  Can you just imagine what it would cost to cover an entire wall with this stuff?  Customers have included the White House, the Kremlin, and the Göteborg Stadsteater (that’s City Theatre) in Sweden.  But these days some high end designers are using the velvet for clothing and accessories as well.

At the end of our tour we stopped in at the tiny little showroom where there were some items for sale including handbags and belts.  The one handbag I asked about was €1,500 (or about $1,700 American).

Yep, definitely out of my price range.

Still, it was amazing to tour the workshop and learn about the process of making these beautiful velvet’s.  It was perhaps the closest thing to traveling back in time that I’ve ever experienced.

This beautiful hot pink velvet on a gold background inspired me to try something creative, so be sure to check back on Friday to see how it turned out!

And if you happen to be traveling to Venice any time soon, I can’t recommend both Luisella and touring the Luigi Bevilacqua workshop enough.  They are absolutely worth the splurge!

43 thoughts on “traveling back in time.

  1. I did learn in a Greenfield Village tour that those cards for weaving looms are binery codes. And that was the inspiration and the forerunner for computer codes. I thought that was so amazing that it was from hundreds of years ago. Anyways a beautiful place and I’m hoping you have some fabric from that tour. Can hardly wait for the project !

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    1. Now that you mention it, the guide did talk about the cards being the forerunners for computer punch cards. And I hate to admit it, but I’m old enough to remember those punch cards! Nope, I didn’t buy any fabric. Unfortunately that stuff was WAY out of my price range. But I think the project I came up with was a great way to ‘recreate’ the look. Be sure to check back on Friday to see it.

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  2. I love-LOVE the picture of Jesus on the wood beam on the second loom picture. My eye was immediately drawn to it. ‘‘Tis the reason for the season!

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    1. I wondered if anyone would notice that. I didn’t ask about it, but I am guessing that the person who worked that particular loom put that up. Each loom is specifically set for just one weaver.

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  3. This is a tour I would love. Such beautiful fabrics. And the fact they only produce 12” a day must make
    it incredibly expensive. But those patterns and colors are amazing.
    It truly did look like either a museum or you walked back in time. Great post.

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    1. Thanks Victoria! Yes, 12″ a day made it very expensive. I’ll admit that originally I was hoping to be able to come home with just half a yard or something to have made into a throw pillow or cover the seat of a straight back chair. But no. It was far too expensive for that. Still, it was fascinating to see how it was made and I admire Luigi Bevilacqua for keeping this craft alive.

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  4. Oh heart be still. I love, love, love beautiful fabric. And I love the classic antique weaving looms. What an amazing tour. Were you allowed to touch the fabric? The colors are magnificent, the patterns are amazing and 12” a day?! Are the loops of thread cut as they are woven? By hand? Oh my I want more close ups of the fabric, I want to just sit there and watch them weave!! I imagine it’s not a fun job, but probably you take a lot of pride in your work. I bet it’s difficult to find people to tenderly work on weaving, along with repairing the looms. It looks both scary and peaceful, those giant looms and that wall of thread! I bet even manufacturing the silk thread for the weaving is getting scarce. Makes you want to google silk velvet and see who sells it. Oh I am going to do that. Can’t wait to see your creative inspiration. Thanks again for sharing your travels, I love this post.

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    1. Oh yes, we definitely were able to touch the fabric. In fact, we sat at a work table and were shown how to tell the difference between the handwoven and machine made versions, and touch is part of that. As for the cutting, they cut as they go. Check out {this link} to see a photo of that process on the Luigi Bevilacqua website and also read a description of the weaver’s task.

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  5. That is surely magical. Stunning! If you’re not going to keep your inspiration piece, you’ll have to include a card that tells the story.

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  6. How absolutely incredible! I’ve been to Venice once and dream of going back. Indeed magic surrounds. Thank you for sharing your tour-

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  7. What an incredible place to experience. I was just in Venice last month too but obviously you found the best hidden treasure in the city. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. I hope you weren’t there for all of that flooding they had! Apparently the ship we were on had been in port that day and the staff shared crazy tales with us of people being trapped on bridges or having to wade through deep water to return to the ship.

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  8. This was a great blog post. Beautiful, infotmative, and makes the reader want to be there with you. I would love to see those looms in action. Kind of makes you realize how truly complex things are, doesn’t it? It is too bad it was cost prohibitive to purchase a small piece though…would have been nice to see it in person. Bet the silk colors were vibrant! Good job finding this gem.

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  9. Oh Miss Quandie…….you have such a wonderful and appreciative eye for things…….are you kind of a photography savant? Or do you have lots of photo rejects, too? You have such a gift for telling a story in words and pictures! You should offer them to travel magazines and websites! Or you could be like the Sister Wendy of combined travel/beauty/curiosities…..PBS is calling! (-: I admire so much your ability to home in to the rich use of limited time……

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  10. Fantastic. Out of my price range too but, I would love to know how much 12 ” amount would average. Thank you for sharing such an awesome experience.

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    1. I believe they said around $1,000. But I could be mis-remembering that number, which is why I didn’t quote it in my post. And of course, they were quoting in Euros, and by the centimeter. But it was somewhere around there.

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  11. I wish I’d known about this workshop before I visited Venice a few years ago. Think I’ll have to do a return trip! Thanks for sharing xx

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  12. Oh my goodness! Venice is one of my most favorite places in the world….it is indeed magical; the city itself feels like entering a different place and time. Your pictures and written words about the place, the cloth, and the colors are absolutely sumptuous!

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