An incredible history

We’re in Asolo in the first half of the nineteenth century. Silk worm farming and small-scale textile production were practised alongside traditional farming, as was the case throughout the countryside of Veneto. In 1848, a soldier from Como built a special loom for weaving silk. It had only one pedal, a feature that caused it to be excluded from the mechanisation that would lead to jacquard fabric production taking precedence all over the world. The owner of this first weaving mill was the Velo family, and requests for fabrics came mainly from Venice and Riviera del Brenta.

In 1886, after moving to Palazzo Razzolini Fietta, the Velo family transferred weaving operations to a mill near the villa inhabited by the English intellectual Herbert Young. In 1901, Young, a painter and photographer, decided to purchase the mill and increase the number of looms.

But things took a turn with the arrival of Lucy Beach, an American journalist from Pasadena who was visiting Asolo. Lucy “discovered” the mill and these looms which, in her words, “weave like in Ancient Rome”. She fell in love with it and decided to buy out the Velos. She made changes to the looms, so that instead of working with hemp and thick wool, they could weave silk and fine wools for export to the United States. The mill was moved to the more spacious Torre Dieda in Asolo.

It needed a name to export though. Lucy filed the patent in Treviso, but due to her imperfect Italian, “tessitoria” became “tessoria”. Tessoria Asolana was thus born.

At the end of the Great War, Lucy Beach had to return to California. She sold Tessoria Asolana to an English painter, Flora Stark, a friend of Herbert Young and the poet Robert Browning. Flora set up a cultural salon in Asolo, frequented by English literary types and artists, attracted by the presence of Browning. The excitement created served only to increase the popularity and prestige of Tessoria Asolana. The Thirties were the years of winning prizes at International Expos, of the gold medal at the Triennale di Milano, and collaboration with Giò Ponti and Studio BBPR.

It was also the period in which a major restoration of the Palladian villas got underway in the Veneto. Flora had the idea of taking inspiration from the motifs and colours of frescoes to produce fabrics for sofas, table cloths, curtains and bedcovers. These masterpieces of textile craftsmanship can still be admired today at Villa Barbaro (Maser) and Villa Malcontenta (Mira).

In 1940, Italy went to war with Great Britain and France. Flora Stark was forced to seek a safe haven in the United States and Tessoria Asolana was confiscated until 1945. The mill was saved by Carolina Piaser, known as Caroli, one of Flora’s partners, who saved the fabrics and looms from being destroyed.
After the war, Caroli started up the business again as the operational arm of Freya, Flora’s daughter.

So, Freya Stark, writer, explorer and cartographer inherited her mother’s estate and made Tessoria Asolana fabrics famous the world over. Asolana silks found their way into Buckingham Palace and some of the most important international residences. At the same time, a tireless traveller, dead-set on really probing the innermost heart of the places she visited (“For a traveller getting a lot of attention means all to often being faced with obstacles”), Freya brought foreign fabrics to Asolo as a source of inspiration for new colours and designs. But the most important news would, unexpectedly, come from Venice, Italy.

In 1963, “Il professore” Carlo Scarpa came to Asolo. He would live there for ten years, in a home and studio right above Tessoria Asolana. Scarpa had already created the Gipsoteca Canoviana in Possagno and from 1969 he worked on the Brion Tomb in San Vito di Altivole, yet he built nothing in Asolo, because of the absence of art works and projects. His only works of architecture are made of silk: the fabrics created in collaboration with Freya Stark and Caroli Piaser. The sensitivity, mindset and stark design style of this great architect are condensed in a barely palpable voile.

When Caroli left the company, it heralded a period of slow decline for Tessoria Asolana, until its closure.

In 2015, the thread of a tradition it would have been criminal to delete, was once again picked up. And once again that was done by a woman. Carla Tomasella purchased Tessoria Asolana on behalf of Pianca and got the old looms up and running again. And this long story, a tight weave of Italian good taste, passion and expertise, this story that unravels under the skilful guidance of female minds and hands, can finally start all over again.