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This post is shortlisted by Italy Magazine as best blog post on an art and culture blog for 2014! 

The Lost Art of Print Blocking in Carpegna, Italy: Regenerated

Carpegna, Italy

Carpegna, Italy

Rumbling down the road, past the emerald green pastures, dirt and signs in Italian, I knew I was up for this adventure. The roads became tinier and tinier as we headed toward Carpegna in the Le Marche region of Italy.  Le Marche is the region in east-central Italy nestled between Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, and Umbria.  I was on a day trip from Mercatello sul Metauro, where I had been staying at the stunning Palazzo Donati in the center of the town square.

Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

Grandfather Francioni waiting for us at the end of the road Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

Today I was going to meet an amazing artisan at work.  I have long been fascinated by old art forms and handicraft skills that have been passed down from generation to generation within communities, some of which are centuries old.

Mr. Francioni, Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

Grandfather Francioni as a young man, with a photo of his Father

There are so many that are in danger of going extinct today due to the pressures of modern development, that I get excited when I hear of a new generation taking on an old skill.  Yet, I continue to worry about the preservation of some of these skills and whether or not they will be lost through the generations. Do you remember my story about Mr. Luigi Lombardi, where, right now, no one is there to learn his ancient art skill of violin making?

Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

When I step inside the worn cobblestone woodshop, it is as if I have been transported back in time.  More precisely, 300 years. When I stand in front of Emanuel Francioni, hear his story and admire his intricate work, I am speechless, and can barely believe someone can actually have such an amazing skill, and yet astonished in the way in which he has perfected this ancient art form.

Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

Today I lucky enough to meet Emanuel Francioni – he creates woodblock prints, like his grandfather before him in their timeworn wood shop called Antica Stamperia in Carpengna, Italy.  The workshop has always had the same family name.  

Emanuele Francioni, Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

Emanuele Francioni, Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

“Woodblock prints?” You ask, “what is that?”
Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

It is an ancient Italian tradition of using hand-carved pear or walnut woodblocks to create the “stamp” that makes the patterns upon linen fabric, which is placed there using a simple dye of vinegar and rusted iron.  They create these hand-printed fabrics using traditional Italian designs.  These hand-engraved wooden molds are made according to an old tradition of block printing.  

Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

The recipe to create the rust color has been passed to Emanuel by his Grandfather for 7 generations. The rust color is made of wine vinegar, wheat flour and iron rust from old barrels and pieces of metal found strewn about in the yard. The boiling process is one of the key elements of Antica Stamperia studio, which fixes the color onto the fabric. 

Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

Many years of generations of Francioni’s have tested the durability in washing and ecological sensitivity in the production process.  After printing, the fabric is passed to the fixing of the color, which makes the color indelible and resistant for a long time to the wash.
Emanuele Francioni, Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

Emanuele Francioni, Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

 The colors used are natural and are dosed expertly in accordance with this secret family recipe that was passed from generations to Emanuele, so that he can continue to refine it over time. The choice of a color is essential to give the garment a brightness and vividness that is renewed with every wash. 
Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

Antica Stamperia carries cotton and linen fabrics with a variety of other colors and patterns on tablecloths, table runners, napkins, kitchen towels, placemats, aprons and a multitude of other products. These can be ordered on his website, but it very interesting to meet him in person, as now you will have a story to tell your grandchildren!
Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

Emanuele is now working on a new project trying to find other natural colors to make green, blue and red that are as resistant to washing as the rust is.
Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

Antica Stamperia, Carpegna, Italy

Here in the old wood shop, time is measured in quality, not in quantity, as each creation is unique.  The wood shop is almost like a family museum with thousands of ancient molds, exclusively from their 7 generations of family. With these molds, you can go back to the cultures and customs, styles and personalities that have influenced the craftsmen of the Francioni family and that have passed their work down over the centuries.

It is as if the heritage of the people still live in the fabrics printed in rust.

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Disclosure:  I was invited on this tour by Luisa Donati of Pallazzo Donati.  If you would like to take this tour along with other tours offered by Luisa, you can contact her on the above website.

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