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Rust-printed tea towel


Fabric printed with an ancient, traditional dye made of vinegar, flour and rusted irons, Antica Stamperia Marchi, Sant'Arcangelo di Romagna, since 1633

Rust-printing techniques spread across Romagna, a Region in the North of Italy, during the seventeenth century. In the beginning it is used to decorate oxen blankets with holy images against bad luck and to bring them to cattle markets.
But over time the decoration moves into bridal hope chests: pomegranates, grapes, ears of wheat, cocks and doves, all wishing fertility and abundance to the newlyweds. The iconography takes after Byzantine motifs, brocades and aristocratic damasks: this way even lower class families can enjoy the vicarious thrill of precious fabrics.
The key to a well-made print, though, is the color. Each printer has its own secret recipe, passed down from generation to generation. They all share the same ingredients: flour, vinegar and rusted irons, and the amazing abilitity of the printer to shape them into flowers and fantastic creatures. Nowadays the oldest atelier still in business is Stamperia Marchi. It’s here, in the late 1800s, where young Sante Pracucci, known as E' tintour (the dyer), apprentices. From that moment on Sante observes master printers, learns the secrets to preparing the perfect color, and studies the craft of whittling to create new pear-wood stamps. Soon this job becomes his passion, and he sells his house to buy up the enterprise. During the Second World War he saves the entire archive by hiding it in an undisclosed location. Today, thanks to his bravery, his great-grandchildren Laura and Gabriele Marchi can continue using around two thousand stamps from various times in history (from Malatesta insignia to Futuristic airplanes). The entire lab is an homage to the past: the printers still use a seventeenth century mangle (wood wheel) to pull the fabric taut before decorating it. The wheel, man-operated, moves a five-tonne stone that softens the fibers, allowing the dye to seep deeply. The process usually takes a few days, but more complex designs can require up to a month. In those cases the Marchis work on commission: the waiting period lends an extraordinary air to the piece, transforming a bedspread or a dowry into coalesced history and material culture.