Mariantonia Urru1 gives to weaving multiple meanings: a link between past and present, a link between innovation and tradition, as for tradition of making. Mariantonia Urru2 looks to the future, maintaining a quality of product and crafts that originally belongs to the past and which are a great heritage of technical and cultural value. Mariantonia Urru3 opens the door to the collaboration with international designers, supporting them in the research of technical solutions and supporting the various formal results. Mariantonia Urru4 intends to promote the territory by making sharing of knowledge and communication the basis of its innovative path.
Who is Mariantonia Urru?
Mariantonia Urru is a woman. She is an entrepreneur and a mother. It is a family and a textile workshop. It is the tradition of her land, to which she gives new life by contaminating it with the sensitivity of the present and with the collaboration with customers. Mariantonia Urru it’s me. At 14 years old my first work, weaved with the a un’in dente technique. Since then I have never stopped. When my sons grew up I’ve eventually opened the laboratory that bears my name. It was 1981; Graziano, my youngest son, was already six years old. Now they jokingly call me “master weaver” but it’s still me, and every day I discover that I still have a lot to learn.
A businesswoman in the hinterland of Sardinia. Is the one of yours an exception?
No, it is not an exception indeed, my story is similar to many others … here many companies were born from the initiative of women. In the ’80s each family carried out different activities, men mainly followed agriculture, women were involved in textile art, a purely feminine field. On the other hand, matriarchy, although in part legend, is a distinctive feature of Sardinian civilization.
What is Samugheo?
It is our home, it is the headquarters of our textile workshop. It is a village of 3,400 souls in the province of Oristano, in the heart of Sardinia. It is the cradle of the ancient Sardinian textile tradition, handed down from generation to generation over the centuries, to the point of becoming an industry. Today it is a textile district, which houses 20 industrial laboratories. It is also a cultural centre: here is located the Murats, Museo Unico Regionale Arte Tessile Sarda and every year we organize Tessingiu, an exhibition of Sardinian craftsmanship that has reached the 50th edition. When I was a child it was different, Samugheo was isolated from other villages and cities, if you wanted to study it was necessary to move to Oristano, only 40 km away but back then it was unthinkable.
How relevant was the weaving craftsmanship to the opening of the village of Samugheo towards the world?
Weaving is ultimately a means of communication, which we have chosen to use to communicate with the world, in order to tell what Sardinia has been and what it can be. And we do it by weaving relationships all over the world, communicating through our carpets and our collections. It is an island, often perceived as a closed and isolated land but that actually hosted, four thousand years ago, the Nuragic civilization, which unified the peoples of Sardinia and connected them to the surrounding populations. Almost ten thousand stone towers, at least one every 3 square kilometres. It meant being able to communicate in real time with every point of the island, connecting the territory within the inside and facilitating exchanges with the outside world. So, we aim to reactivate this network, the network created by Nuragic population, in the means of weaving new relationships with the world.
You refer to the Nuragic civilization, mysteriously disappeared millennia ago and to a tradition, the textile one, made of ancient techniques. Isn’t this look exaggeratedly addressed to the past?
Of course, this is precisely the point. The symbol of our laboratory is MU: Mariantonia Urru. It is also the name of a vanished continent, like Atlantis, with its legendary roots. We like to think that MU, or Atlantis, was actually Sardinia back at the time of the Nuragic civilization, which would have suffered an irreparable collapse due to a natural catastrophe, a tsunami that flooded the fertile plains of the Campidano, ending an age of gold made of commercial and cultural exchanges with other Mediterranean civilizations. But the traditions and the deepest features of that civilization would have survived through the centuries, handed down from generation to generation. We sink the roots in this tradition and look to the future to regain possession of a land that is actually the opposite of the imaginary people have of the island as closed in itself. Mariantonia Urru brings the Sardinian weaving internationally.
Your sons are also part of the lab.
Yes, they followed me, all the four of them. My eldest son Gian Bachisio, then Antonello, Giuseppe and the youngest, Graziano. They have approached the business since childhood, but I think the great leap was given by the university studies. Three of them studied engineering. This training and other previous work experiences have been important in turning the family business into a modern laboratory, into an actual company. In the early 2000s the market had a sudden change and the products on which we were specialized on were no longer required. We opened a new structure, we faced the change in the market, we have been able to seize new opportunities and invest in new technologies.
Is technological innovation in contrast with the idea of craftsmanship associated with textile art?
No indeed. It is just the opposite. Craftsmanship is not something folkloristic, out of time and space. Craftsmanship can be future. MU doesn’t make serial rugs. Every day we find ourselves creating something new and this means that our product is handmade. At the same time, however, the continuous search for original solutions makes it possible to interface with an evolving market. Technology is fundamental in these circumstances. Craftsmanship must be updated and up-to-date, able to use all the means that technology provides.
How does craftsmanship combine with innovation and the use of technology in everyday activities?
Combining dexterity, mechanics and technology doesn’t give any less charm of the final product, but rather enriches it. Today, for example, designers’ creations are digitized before the actual weaving begins and this allows managing more complex and sophisticated designs. Today we have 25 weaving frames, some manuals, others equipped with touch screen panels. This allows us to use different techniques and different materials, working on multiple levels of programming.
Where does the need to combine different techniques and materials come from?
It is an opportunity rather than a necessity. It allows us to enhance the designer’s project. It isn’t easy to reproduce the work of an artist. Starting from his vision, going backwards, we must go back to the beginning, to the raw material. In this process techniques and three-dimensionality of Sardinian texture are a facilitator element. The Sardinian techniques, especially the Pibiones, have a three-dimensionality that we exalt by making the artefact on several levels. In Mediterranean, designed by Paulina Herrera and winner of the first prize in DIART 2015, the concept of the work is a reflection of the relationships between the different cultures that face the Mediterranean sea, represented by a marine context crossed by fishes. The water flow is represented by a blue band woven in Pibiones, travelling from side to side, crossing the sea. The sea is woven in Litzos with a yarn made of three different materials: wool, linen and cotton. The composition of the yarn based on three materials and the three-dimensionality of the points arranged in an apparently random manner give vibrant light reflections that recreate the wavering sheen of the sea surface.
What raw materials do you use? How do you choose them?
We use wool, cotton, linen and silk, but also metal threads for some experimental projects. Choosing suppliers is fundamental and I personally follow the selection. By dealing with handcrafted products, we need raw material qualitatively perfect, suitable for our weaving frames and functional to the design itself. As for the wool, which feeds 80% of our production, I follow the entire supply chain, starting from the harvest, which takes place exclusively in Sardinia. Our technicians select the raw material in the sheepfolds. Then the washing, carding, dyeing and spinning are carried out, these processes are entrusted to contractors. Finally, starting from the single garment of the yarn, we combine different materials to obtain a specific one with unique characteristics. We experiment by mixing fibers and colors, starting from single garments of yarns to obtain different shades, mélanges. This allows us to find a distinctive solution for each individual project.
How does your product come to life? How does the collaboration with international designer fit in the process? The link between tradition and territory could be at risk?
Collections come from a specific request of the customer. Designers are involved starting from this necessity, therefore the design is realized thinking about its transposition into carpet. Design and industrialization are processes that occur simultaneously, inseparable one from the other, until the realization of the prototype, which represents a meeting point between the concept developed by the designer and the technical solutions we put in place. This phase is a work of mediation and cultural exchange. Of contamination, I would dare to say.
At the beginning of the collaboration we host the designer in a full immersion experience in our land. They stay with us, they breathe the air, they eat the bread and they drink the wine of Samugheo, they participate to parties and festivals. They draw inspiration from nature and the landscape, only this way they will be able to transmit the soul of Sardinia in their works. All carpets speak of the place where they were produced, speak our language. In this phase the artists live the laboratory with us: they meet me, my sons, the weavers who teach them the technique, in order to acquire the abc and the rituals of the language of weaving. To this first phase it follows the presentation of a proposal and a first comparison takes place. This is where we question ourselves. We share techniques and materials to be used, yarns, levels. The carpet is a sculpture, which we do with four hands: ours and designer’s ones. This mediation leads to a prototype, which I create personally on a dedicated weaving frame.
Once the prototyping phase is over, we move on to production.
Exactly. Here therÈs the whole component of craftsmanship. The production of a carpet is not the mere reproduction of the prototype: it is the work of the weaver who interprets it and weaves it. Each MU rug is a unique piece. Once finished, we embroider, in silk and by hand, the code bearing the name of the designer, the company, the name of the weaver, the name of the collection and the year of production. The code and the artifact are photographed and archived for traceability. Each rug carries a certificate of authenticity that is delivered to the customer.
How long does it take to become a professional weaver?
Not easy to say. Since 2002 Samugheo hosts the “Art of fabric, fashion and costume” from the Istituto Statale d’Arte of Oristano. Here weaving is an art that you learn in childhood, my sons learned when they were still at school, in the afternoon or in summer during the holidays, when they came to the shop to visit. I learned at home, when I was 14, weaving my bridal kit. A week-time, coached by a professional weaver, might be enough to learn the rudiments of weaving. The different techniques, the knowledge of raw materials, the complexity of the drawings can be learned with an experience of at least 4/5 years.
What is the average manufacturing time of your production?
A 5 square meter carpet needs at least 15 days. An industrial carpet of the same size is made in less than an hour. The main difference lies in the production process rather than the difference in execution. The carpets we weave can’t be industrially reproduced, there are no machines able to reproduce certain techniques, materials and colors. Only one-color carpets in Pibiones stitches could be industrially produced. Interweaving different techniques and materials slows down industrial production times, which are made for large-scale productions. But these are different, non-competitive productions.
It is a thin line that divides tradition and innovation. The tradition, emblem of the textile district of Samugheo, could ever perish?
It depends on what is meant by tradition. If we mean something crystallized, firm, immobile, yes, it is destined to perish. To keep the tradition alive, we need what always made it possible: we need transformation, innovation and communication between past and present; we need to find new ideas and welcome different points of view. On the other hand, the techniques we have inherited are the result of continuous experimentations made by previous generations, many things have been lost, others have been handed down. We have handed down precisely those that have been able to acquire a new meaning in the eyes of the next generation.
Are your carpets ready to challenge the international market?
No doubt. But I’ll tell you more: I believe that our land has all the conditions to be a bearer of innovation. Sardinia has long been a land of migrants who have brought their land along with them. In our artefacts we describe what their eyes have seen. Many of our designers are from Sardinia and who have a strong emotional bond with their land that can be an inspiration for other designers and artists, but not only. WÈll have to be open to a changing market and to the sensitivity of the artists that we will meet along the way. If we maintain the willingness to change, distinctive feature of our DNA, we will be able to face everything without ever losing our identity.
Pibiones technique is realized through the use of bars to which a large wool weft is wrapped around. This passage creates a very compact curl, reminiscent of a small grape, which in the dialect of Sardinia is called “Pibione”. The result is a very heavy fabric, 5 to 10 mm thick-depending on the size of weft and irons, characterized by a dotted texture.
Piana technique is made with an extra texture, also very large, raised for long or short periods, usually not more than a few centimeters in order not to compromise the strength of the fabric. It is lighter and thinner compared with the one in Pibiones, its thickness varies from 3 to 5 mm – depending on the title of the weave used, and is characterized by a linear texture.
All our carpets are handmade by expert weavers who have acquired, after a period of apprenticeship of over two years, the manual skills necessary to guarantee a high level of production quality. During the period of apprenticeship the weaver refines the manual skills using one or both of the two traditional techniques, Pibiones technique and Piana technique, both realized by processing of coarse wool plots on a base consisting of the simple and regular intertwining of thin threads of cotton warp and weft. The combination of the two techniques, thanks to the composition and the interweaving of the dotted and the linear texture fields, allows a wide variety of effects and visual expressions.