The city of Prato is a short and easy 20 minute train ride from Florence. Tuscany’s second largest city, Prato has long been associated with the textile industry from producing the finest fabrics for Renaissance courts to todays big name fashion houses.
The light filled Museo del Tessuto is housed in a converted textile mill with a large open courtyard dominated by an enormous tower that was once used to release steam created in the manufacturing process. Today the tower collects rainwater that is then used in the museums heating system.
Our group of players was greeted by museum staff and their social media team who gave us a guided tour of the space. We began with the temporary exhibit Italian Fabrics from Renaissance. In the low light required to protect the delicate intricate fabrics and artwork we learned about the importance of textiles in Renaissance Italy. So important were textiles during this time period Leonardo da Vinci designed machines to streamline the manufacturing process.
The next section of museum is fun and interactive. The Familiarization Area explores the process of textile manufacturing. Many types of fibers are available to touch and feel from the lightest softest cashmere to surprisingly rough spun silk to synthetic fibers like polyester. Square panels mounted onto the wall display many different fabric finishing techniques. From there we visited the vast open space at the top of the museum that is preparing for an exhibit that opens in February dedicated to the iconic white shirts of the Italian designer Gianfranco Ferré.
We then settled into modern designer chairs in the Boiler Room and met Barbara and Francesca, the women behind BettaKnit. The company has a long history in Prato and with the textile industry beginning with the family business of manufacturing the machines that create yarn. We were each then given charmingly designed kits complete with everything needed to create our own hand knitted hat.
That of course meant I had to learn to knit! I listened to the patient explanations of the different styles of casting on and the basic stitches knit and purl and gave it a try. After a few false starts and a tragically lost knitting needle into an unreachable part of the museum floor, I managed a few tentative rows of bright fuchsia knots. The BettaKnit website has a library of videoson their website to help me finish.