From Fleece to Yarn …

The road which leads us to Maria’s house is an endless undulation of hills. As the crow flies, it is very close to the starting point of our journey, Rimini. However, once we have left the plains, the road becomes uneven, continuously rolling hills blend into each another until we reach Ardiano (Roncofreddo, Forli-Cesena), where Maria and Paolo’s house lies at the top of a hill.

Maria welcomes us in, waiting to tell us her story; as with all stories, it is special and unique.

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It begins in Lisbon, where Maria was born, as revealed by her unusual surname. A tradition peculiar to Portugal, it is formed of all the family surnames: Maria Joao Tavares das Neves Viegas Pimentel. It was in Portugal that Maria’s family taught her to knit and crochet – as was common practice there in the seventies and eighties. She moved to Porto in the north of the country, where she studied architecture and met Paolo, originally from Cesena in northern Italy and who studied architecture in Milan.

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The scene has been set, we’re ready to tell the story. Maria, despite her chosen studies, was not sure that she wanted to pursue architecture as a career. Instead, she was drawn more to work which would combine her creativity and manual skills, clearly influenced by her background in traditional craft. She continuously tried out various fields such as ceramics, searching for the perfect field in which she would be able to realise her ambitions.

While still very young she ended up in Denmark, spending some time on the island of Bornholm, where she stayed with architects (ceramicists). It was a boom time for arts and handicrafts, which were created in the home studios typical to the island. This was where she realised that her dream was to live in the countryside and set up her own ‘home studio‘.

When personal reasons led to Maria and Paolo finally choosing Italy as their permanent home, they found their work cut out when they bought a house and small farm.

And with this, they chose to take on a real challenge; Maria, born a city dweller, had to get used to country life once again. She decided to take on a project which would use and recover wool from endangered sheep native to Italy’s Apennines.

The challenge began with ten sheep, a ram (as well as two small donkeys), hilly land – a good chunk of it given over to forest – and the initial idea which was to use wool (which by then had been downgraded to a ‘special waste’) at all stages from shearing to carding (for felt) and spinning (for knitting).

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The challenge for Maria was in learning all sides of the work, experimenting, attending courses, exchanging ideas and gradually learning how to become independent.

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In 2007 she also attended Filo lungo filo, un nodo si fara (Thread over thread, a knot will make) in the year when the event, which had been organised since 2005 by the Associazione Amici della Scuola Leumann (Collegno, Turin) was entirely dedicated to the transformation of wool. She took some courses at Feltrosa, the annual event held by Coordinamento Tessitori (Weavers’ Organisation), organised by the tireless Eva Basile.

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Today she can say that she has achieved her dream to become a custodian of tradition, creating everything that she can with wool, with the intention of never throwing anything away, not even the smallest piece of fluff or thread. Wool has been transformed from waste material to a fully usable resource!

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While we sit around the table, she tells us about her ‘babies’ and shows them to us; carded wool, skeins ready to use, in natural colours or dyed with Michela Pasini‘s plant dyes), scarves, hoods, felt hats and other items and a multitude of books, both in Italian and Portuguese. She shows us some felt hats which she made by cutting the fabric to a pattern, an innovative use compared to standard practice. Her experience in cutting and stitching means that she treats felt like a fabric, creating patterns and sewing them together by hand with strong hemp thread. She sits at her spinning wheel to give us a spinning demonstration.

After a long, pleasant and enlightening chat, we move to the workshop; Maria gets to work on a container that she has prepared, showing us the process of felting and moulding up until the final rinse.

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