Tessuti in Prato

Jennifer Hesselbach

Although many things can fall into the category of “Textiles”, the term is typically defined as varying types cloth or woven material. In today’s world, the thought of textiles brings to mind the image of clothing, blankets, rugs, and other fabrics for decoration and upholstering.

The evolution of textiles has come a long way- from early people using animal skins and nature to cover themselves; fabrics and clothes have become used much more for self-expression rather than simply an essential for warmth and survival.Though they have come a long way, it’s still necessary to trace back the history, especially in a place like Italy that is highly regarded for their “tessuti” or textiles.

In the textile industry, there are a few major front-runners for countries or nations with the largest industry for it and are ranked as the largest exporters of textiles- the top three include The United States, China, and in first place, The European Union. Though the European Union covers approximately twenty-eight member countries, one of the largest contributors to their textile statistics is Italy. With many of it’s cities having a background in the textiles industry as it came up in Europe,Italy become a leader in Europe for textiles, sewing, and tailoring.Italy also earned it’s standing as one of the largest fashion capitals of the world due to it’s large fashion design niche as well as it’s long-standing history with the clothing and textiles industry.

Though I didn’t really know much about it before coming abroad to study here in Prato, this city has a pretty high-standing history in the Italian Textile business. With it’s own Museo del Tessuto (Museum of Textiles), Prato’s greatest business and trade has been in the textile industry since the beginning of the twelfth century. Located right along the outside of the city’s walls, the Museum is housed in a converted textile building. Aside from showcasing old and historical pieces, the museum also includes exhibitions and expos on specific types of textiles and time periods. The Museum’s main objective is to show gratitude to the city’s past as well showcase the evolution of the industry that this city knows very well. All the while, educating visitors on the processes and techniques of the textile industry.

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While earlier generations, centuries ago, almost primarily wore clothing that was either simple, plain colors with no decoration,  or their choices in these subjects had conscious backing. Decorations, patterns, and designs on their possessions and clothing would have been put their for a reason, based on religious meaning, social standing, and for specific occasions. The same can be said about other textiles of the time such as carpets, robes, curtains, tapestries, etc.

Fast forward to today’s society, where virtually the entire textile industry is based from self-expression- personal preference, and very few restrictions on what you can wear, what you can decorate your apartment or house with.

Prato is a prime example to show how the industry has shifted as well as show the progression and evolution over time of the styles, techniques, and types of textiles that are included in the industry.


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