In Venice, the Tessitura Bevilacqua, where velvet is still produced by hand according to the ancient techniques imposed by Doges

17 January 2022

Venice, January 14th, 2022 – At the beginning it was the “sciamito”, a specific kind of velvet, similar to corduroy. Then, in the 1300s, some weavers from Lucca sought political asylum in Venice and, from that moment on, the tradition of craftmanship begun, a tradition that has maintained its relevance all over the world. In the 1500s, in the city of Venice, there were at least 6000 frames producing velvet with thousands of people working in laboratories or in their own houses. Thousands of silk threads waved together by expert hands which created drawings that are still considered as modern.
The Tessitura Bevilacqua has a very ancient history which dates to 1499, when it was represented in a painting by Giovanni Mansueti “San Marco trascinato nella Sinagoga”, a work of art that contains the names of those who commissioned the masterpiece, among which emerged Giacomo Bevilacqua, the weaver. Officially, the Tessitura Luigi Bevilacqua was established in 1875 in a palace along the fondamenta San Lorenzo, that in the past used to be the seat of the Scuola della Seta della Serenissima (Silk School of the Serenissima), abandoned at the beginning of the century due to the Napoleonic decree according to which, in 1806, every craftmanship corporation was shut down. Today, the Bevilacqua is the most ancient weaving centre in Europe that is still using the original 1700s frames from the Scuola della Seta, thanks to which precious velvet textiles have been created following the same techniques imposed by the Doges that used to manage the city that this year celebrates the 1600 years from its foundation.
“We are the only ones producing a textile that must reach quality standards of the past: this is our strength. After 130 years we are still producing the original fabric in the same way – explains the Chief Executive Officer Alberto Bevilacqua – the story of our family begins with our great-grandfather who in 1875 established the society, although we have proofs that our ancestors had established a textile plant at the end of the 1400s. The society passed on through generations and has been managed by several members of the Bevilacqua family”.
At the beginning of the 1900s, the Tessitura Bevilacqua had over a hundred weavers while today there are just 18 frames and 7 weavers who have the tough duty to create, with great patience, velvets that will decorate houses, show rooms and churches while others will be wore on high fashion catwalks.
“Catholic Church used to be one of the most important institutions that commissioned the creation of velvet, while later this fabric was included in fashion by the stylist Roberta di Camerino with her Bagonghi bag and, lately, this textile has had a great come back on high fashion – continues Bevilacqua -. In fact, we collaborate with many among the most important stylists at a national and international level”.
Walking inside the main seat of the Bevilacqua weaving factory, in the area of Santa Croce, means deep diving into the past, among wooden frames, colourful silk threads and an historical archive that owns more than 3500 samples and technical drawings containing the information necessary to drill the data cards.
To produce a textile, we need to begin from the drawing. Each hole corresponds to a thread and each card represents half a millimetre of the textile we want to create.
“In the past, there used to be kids on the frames moving threads according to the weavers’ will and later, in 1803 the French Jacquard invented these machines that can read punch cards – explains the CEO -. For example, for a design with a ratio of 1.5 meters, more than 3,000 perforated cards are needed”.
Together with the creation of the drawing, we begin to prepare the frame, a proceeding which can require until six months for the hand knotting of 16,000 threads. Once this procedure has been completed, coils and cards are prepared, we can begin with the weaving procedure. A long work that entails precision and patience, which can also take years, as in the case of the restoration of the Dresda Palace. “It took three years - from 2017 to 2019 - to realize 720 metres of velvet based on an original sample – recalls Alberto Bevilacqua -. We did it as it was, following the same techniques”.