In Tyrol wool is said to be good for the body and mind, and science confirms it: wool, particularly sheep’s wool, contains a high amount of lanolin, a substance with great healing properties, with a relaxing and reconstructive effect. I don’t know if it was this magic that enchanted Mariateresa De Antoni, the queen of jackets in boiled wool in Carnia, from a very young age. The fact is that today in Comeglians, a delightful village in the heart of the Degano Valley, Mariateresa runs one of the very few workshops in Italy for weaving and making boiled wool articles, worked from the yarn to the baking process right through to the making up, following traditional times and methods, dear to the mountain textile culture, which places its trust in the properties of wool, the proverbial daily resilience of these places.
THE ORIGINS OF BOILED WOOL: HUMBLE AT THE BEGINNING, ARISTOCRATIC AFTERWARDS
Against the stiff mountain climate, sheep’s wool has been for centuries the best ally of farmers and shepherds in all the Alpine territories.
Thanks to a little secret called fulling, when wet, heated, soapy and beaten, the wool fibres become felted and compacted
almost halving its volume, giving life to robust, warm, breathable, waterproof and silent cloths such as felt, boiled wool and loden. Economical and easy to find, wool treated in this way was ideal for making work clothes and headgear, generally in the grey of undyed wool: a garment of sure practicality, but without charm for the wealthier classes of the city. Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria was an exceptional testimonial who changed the fate of boiled wool: as Archduke John of Habsburg-Lorraine taught him, during his frequent hunting trips, the emperor liked to wear an outfit inspired by the costume of the hunters of the region between Salzburg, Upper Austria and Styria. From that moment on, the loden was definitively cleared through customs and became a precious and valuable fabric.
DE ANTONI BOILED WOOL JACKETS: AN ANCIENT PASSION
Years and fashions have passed since the time of Emperor Franz Joseph, yet the fascination of wool has remained unchanged, a charm that when combined with a visit to the small weaving workshop in the mountains makes the experience truly unforgettable.
Mariateresa is a woman and an entrepreneur of great character and tenacity: you can feel it when you enter her knitting factory, a very original Art Nouveau residence very well conserved.
E’ in questa casa che tutto ha inizio, tra queste montagne, regno di una natura ancora incontaminata, dove l’artigianato, prima che un lavoro è uno stile di vita, e l’uomo e la natura vivono ancora in armonia.
Today she is the only one left to run the business, 76 years of commitment and energy: “This is my life”.
Although her father Luigi and her mother Ines had imagined something different for her. An illustrious family of the region, the De Antoni family owned a sawmill in Villa Santina, and managed two hydroelectric power stations and a number of mountain huts. However, Maria Teresa was initially imposed a different destiny: first she was sent to study accounting, then after graduating to work as a saleswoman for a publishing house, and only after a few years she joined the family business, in the office. Even though she was not cut out to stand still “So I went out into the square to manage truck drivers and staff”. She continued to cultivate the passion she had felt since she was a child: knitting, embroidering, sewing.
And then the idea. Why not try using that big pot that was used in the family to wash the sheets with lye? “So I started making boiled wool”. Being self-taught.
And she explains to me that the wool fibres, purchased from the best Florentine producers, expand thanks to the heat and the beating of the fabric. “A bit like in the washing machine centrifuge“. Then there is the transition in cold water that fixes the whole thing. “The fibres are compacted giving the boiled wool its typical consistency“. And to dry when the process is finished, just spread it in the sun, of course.
But how do you get inspiration when you design your clothes? She replies: “I’m just expecting the five…”. Minutes, of course.
And so she starts designing and making waistcoats, jackets, capes, coats, skirts, carpets, blankets. She invented the models, she never loved the classic cut of the Tyrolean jackets typical of the Austrian tradition. Mariateresa redesigns that classic cut with her imagination, always experimenting
In fact, this innovative impulse can be breathed simply by walking through the many show rooms of her workshop, a cosy and refined living room, upholstered with garments and articles of every kind and type: a place from which you can breathe Mariateresa’s great dedication to the quality of pure wool in its shades of colour, melange of precious yarns and great experience in transformation.
BOILED WOOL: WARM, WATERPROOF, ECOLOGICAL AND… BESPOKE
Boiled wool has truly incredible characteristics. It is stain-resistant, washable, warm and never gets wasted
But what strikes me when I look at the hundreds of artefacts in the workshop is the absolute uniqueness: never one fabric is the same as the other, even the consistency changes depending on how long the wool is cooked, while always remaining soft to the touch and to the eye.
But above all the details are Mariateresa’s unmistakable trademark: decorations made with paint directly on the wool, inserts, embroideries, buttonholes, buttonhole, velvet trimmings; all made with extreme care, rigorously handmade. And the brand has also an unmistakable signature: those three Xs enclosed between two sticks represent the symbol used by the family business to recognise the trunks coming from the woods it owns. Mariateresa has added her surname, De Antoni, and her land, Carnia, next to them.
BOILED WOOL JACKETS: MASTERPIECES ADMIRED BY MISSONI TOO
“I am very fast at making ideas come true. That leaves me time to do something else. Like reading, one of the thousand passions I have always nurtured”.
This is how Mariateresa reveals to us the origin of the splendid boiled wool sleeves, designed to warm the arms during winter reading moments.
And how not to mention the spats, protagonists of a small but significant fashion revolution during the Victorian era that brought them into the limelight on a par with shoes and that Mariateresa has reissued, resulting in very warm socks to wear over trousers or shoes during the coldest winter days. So today De Antoni Carnia’s production ranges from the classic “Walkjanker”, the Tyrolean jackets for men and women, widening far and wide among caps, scarves, capes and stoles, continuing with coats and duffle coats, up to the production of delicious boiled wool versions of traditional Carnia shoes.
Ideas are certainly not lacking in Mariateresa, the tireless Lady of boiled wool: a life dedicated to creating and inventing, with tenacity and persistence. And style, great style.
So much so that she even earned the compliments of the Missoni family who by chance saw her first collections and sent her a warm letter of congratulations with the wish for a fruitful and long-lasting continuation of her activity.
In our own small way, however, we really enjoyed wearing and photographing her creations, walking through the villages of the hamlets of Comeglians: Povolaro, Maranzanis, Tualis… jewels of greenery and silence, oasis of slowness and harmony with nature. Magnetic places, apparently hostile, from which, for various reasons, life has migrated elsewhere, leaving houses, churches, palaces like shells without snails. With their load of romanticism.
Like the story of De Antoni Carnia, and its founder: a story that has its origins in tradition but that intuition and passion have transformed into an extremely contemporary reality and vision. Tailoring, personalization, use of natural materials and inventive skills, link with the territory. In a word, Excellence. We hope it can be handed down, so as not to disperse the knowledge of an ancient art capable of generating creativity and new inventions, giving vitality to places and communities.
Far and wide across the world I have met magnificent dreamers, men and women who believe with stubbornness in dreams. Luisa Sepulveda