Traditional textile printing at the Antica Stamperia Artigiana Marchi, Santarcangelo di Romagna

Its not often you can walk into a workshop and see things being made using techniques and equipment that date back to the early 1600s. In fact, I can’t think of anywhere where you can do that. Except in Santarcangelo di Romagna, just 13km inland from Italy’s Adriatic Riviera coast, where textile printing still uses not only 17th century methods but also the original 17th century tools. Incredible eh? Lets take a look.

Textile printing hasn't changed since the 1600s in Santarcangelo di Romagna

Textile printing hasn’t changed since the 1600s in Santarcangelo di Romagna

The Antica Stampiera Artigiana Marchi printing press

The Antica Stamperia Artigiana Marchi, literally the old artisanal printing house, sits on one of the main streets of medieval Santarcangelo di Romagna, right next to the Tourist Office. And from the outside it looks just like a normal soft-furnishing shop selling hand-printed tablecloths, napkins and cushions etc. But pop your head inside for a surprise!

The Marchi print workshop and shop in Santarcangelo di Romagna

The Marchi print workshop and shop in Santarcangelo di Romagna

Stepping through the old doorway to the left of the sales counter you descend down into a double height cellar workshop. An enormous wooden wheel reaches 5m high to the ceiling. Rolls of white fabric lie all around, piled up on shelves and workbenches.

Rolls of linen waiting to be processed and printed at the Marchi workshop

Rolls of linen waiting to be processed and printed at the Marchi workshop

And a mammoth block of stone takes centre stage.

This huge stone slab weighs in at a colossal 5.5 tonnes!

This huge stone slab weighs in at a colossal 5.5 tonnes!

This is the nerve-centre of the textile printing workshop. And it hasn’t changed in nearly 400 years!

Fortunately owner Lara, one half of the brother-sister team who run the textile-printing house passed down from their great grandfather, is on hand to explain the history and how the printing process works. She starts with the big wheel.

Textile printing, the 400 year old way

Lara explains how the huge mangano wheel works and what its used for at the Antica Stamperia Artigiana Marchi in Santarcangelo di Romagna

Lara explains how the huge mangano wheel works and what its used for at the Antica Stamperia Artigiana Marchi in Santarcangelo di Romagna

Dating back to 1633, weighing 5.5 tonnes and standing nearly 17 feet in diameter, the wheel, or mangono meaning “machine that produces strength”, is certainly imposing. It is the only known one of its size and weight in the world and so big that the original 17th century builder had to ask the local council’s permission to build the house especially for it. In fact the technology dates back to the Romans and was documented by the master Leonardo da Vinci himself before forming the basis for the industrial revolution of the 1800s. But this isn’t where the printing takes place. So what is it?

Helped by brother Gabriele, Lara explains that the wheel is actually a man-powered mangle. Literally! To demonstrate Gabriele climbs inside the rim of the wooden structure and walks as if in a mammoth hamster wheel!

Man power turns the enormous mangano wheel to move the stone slab and press the cotton (Photo courtesy of the Antica Stamperia Artigiana Marchi)

Manpower turns the enormous mangano wheel to move the stone slab and press the cotton (Photo courtesy of the Antica Stamperia Artigiana Marchi)

As the wheel turns, it pulls the stone slab back and forwards across large wood pins, or subbi, wrapped in cotton or linen cloth. The colossal weight of the stone slab presses the cotton super-smooth better than any iron could in a process called follatura. Ingenious isn’t it!

Cotton, linen or hemp is wrapped around wooden pins called subbi before being pressed under the stone slab

Cotton, linen or hemp is wrapped around wooden pins called subbi before being pressed under the stone slab

But that’s just the first stage to prepare the cotton.

Printing uses natural dyes prepared to centuries-old secret recipes known only to the owners and passed down from generation to generation.

The Marchi workshop is particularly well known for its ochre or rust coloured prints made using dye made from, well, rusty nails!

A bucket of rusty old nails gives a wonderful ochre colour to the natural inks used by the Antica Stamperia Artigiana Marchi in Santarcangelo di Romagna

A bucket of rusty old nails gives a wonderful ochre colour to the natural inks used by the Antica Stamperia Artigiana Marchi in Santarcangelo di Romagna

Other colours come from minerals and the natural environment and include blue, green and red giving the plain white cloth a wonderful vibrancy.

A wonderful vibrant tablecloth hangs drying in the Marchi print workshop

A wonderful vibrant tablecloth hangs drying in the Marchi print workshop

Over 2000 carved pear wood print blocks dating back to the 1600s and 1700s line the shelves of the workshop. Exclusive antique designs draw on traditional southern Romagna symbols including wheat sheaves, grapes and cockerels that give the tele romagnole, Romagnan cloth, a beautiful pastoral and artisanal feel.

Pear wood print blocks dating back to the 1600s are still in regular use at the Marchi workshop

Pear wood print blocks dating back to the 1600s are still in regular use at the Marchi workshop

In the 1600s families would weave their own cloth and bring it to the printshop for decorating. (The poorest families who couldn’t afford printing would create their own decorations by burning designs into the cloth using their irons). Fortunately today you don’t need to get your loom or iron out as the Marchi stamperia has it all covered!

Newly printed aprons, tablecloths and towels hang out to dry

Newly printed aprons, tablecloths and towels hang out to dry

After printing the garments are dried, colour fixed, washed and re-pressed under the mangano to give them a beautiful smooth finish ready for the showroom where you can plunge into piles of beautiful Marchi products. Antique and modern fabric designs offer a wide range of choice for the home and a true reminder of the customs and style of Romagna.

So as you can see, whilst Romagna might not be a region you’re familiar with yet, it offers some of the finest artisanal products using techniques dating back millennia to those eternally infuriatingly inventive Romans! The Marchi printshop offers a glimpse back to the past whilst proudly preserving and enriching the original hand printing techniques, tools, motifs and heritage. And in a world where technology advances almost every week, it’s important to remember that beauty takes passion, perspiration and patience! The Antica Stamperia Artigiana Marchi has all 3 in buckets, along with their rusty nails(!), so don’t forget to pop in for a demo next time you’re in the region!

Useful information

Antica Stampiera Artigiana Marchi website here
Address : Via Cesare Battisti, 15, Santarcangelo di Romagna 47822, Italy
Phone and Fax : +39 0541 626018
Facebook page here

Opening hours

Summer hours from May to September
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday & Saturday from 9:30 to 12:30 and from 16 to 19:30
Thursday and Sunday : CLOSED

Winter hours from October to April
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday & Saturday from 9:30 to 12:30 and from 16 to 19:30
Thursday and Sunday : CLOSED

Entry to the workshop costs just €1

Entry to the workshop costs just €1

Entry to the workshop costs just €1

Santarcangelo di Romagna is just a short drive inland from the wonderful Romagnola Riviera coastline of Bellaria Igea Marina. If you’re travelling with a family, why not base yourself in Bellaria so you can enjoy the wonderful shallow, sandy, family friendly beaches and explore the region too. Recommended hotels from the Associazione di Piccoli Alberghi di Qualità include Hotel EliseoHotel CannesHotel San Salvador and Hotel Daniel.

More posts on this great region will follow shortly so make sure you follow DreamDiscoverItalia for updates and ideas!!

Note : I was a guest of #LovingRomagna on a tour organized by Maria Regina Rubinetti of the Hotel Eliseo in Bellaria Igea Marina. All opinions are my own.

A Hole In My Shoe

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13 Responses to Traditional textile printing at the Antica Stamperia Artigiana Marchi, Santarcangelo di Romagna

  1. Cecelia Pierotti says:

    Oh what a nice introduction into this fascinating and beautiful art…..how amazing that these techniques are handed down in the family…..I’m hoping young family members don’t want to flee the family business to do something else!!!! I don’t know how you resisted bringing home several samples!!!! Well done my friend…..great post!!!!

    • Thank you Cecelia, I’m glad you like it, I knew you would!!! Lara and Gabriele are keeping the family tradition going and are only young yet so lets hope the next generation is ready to be apprentices!! As for shopping, I only had hand luggage but they do ship around the world so we can take advantage of that at our leisure……!!! ;o)

  2. Francesca says:

    Bellissimo! That place is on my list for a visit!

  3. Wow-this is like printmaking porn! Amazing!

  4. Love the tableclothes, t-shirts, oven mitts, …I think I could spend alot of money in this shop 🙂

  5. fantastic post. You must have thoroughly enjoyed your visit.

    • Thanks Stacy and yes, I really did! In my spare time I like to faff around with quilting and textiles so I was a bit like a kid in a sweet shop – not that I’d ever use the Marchi fabrics for quilting, they’re far too good!!!

  6. Tami says:

    Loved it! This is fascinating…and their work is beautiful!

    • Thank you Tami, I’m glad you liked it!! The Marchi print workshop is a really fascinating place and a time capsule too, plus Lara and Gabriele couldn’t be more friendly and welcoming so I recommend you pop in next time you’re in the area!! Thanks for popping by!

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