Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Embroidery Museum in Pistoia

I always start out thinking that my next trip to Italy will be all long, relaxing days doing research or studying museum collections. I don't know why I think this as the trips always fly by and are full of frenzied trips to see as many people as possible. I always end up not being able to do all the things I wanted to and offending people that I am unable to visit. When I get back home I try to make sense of all the hurried snatches of things I've seen and done and resolve that the next trip will not be so jam-packed. I do however get things done and this trip I got to go to three museums that I've wanted to visit for a long time. One was the Museo di Tessuto in Prato, another was the Museo della Tappezzeria in Bologna and the one I'm going to tell you about today was the Museo del Ricamo in Pistoia.

An easy train ride from Florence, you can arrive in Pistoia in about 45 minutes, I'm not sure if you can take a bus in less time, I took the regional train which makes a few stops along the way but Pistoia is only 40 km from Florence. I was lucky to have Maria Elide Melani from the embroidery school Ago Aga e Fantasia waiting to pick me up from the station in her car. I'm sure there is a bus that can take you into the centre of town from the rail station. We did not head directly to the museum from the station as it was too early so I can't tell you how long it takes to get there but Pistoia is a relatively small town.

As the Embroidery Museum is run by volunteers, it's wise to double-check that they are open before making the trip. We arrived expecting there to be a lady that Maria Elide knew but instead her husband was taking her shift as she had had to attend to other business. The museum has a large collection of pieces and consequently they are always rotating the items on display. Maria Elide has been there many times but the day we went, she said there were pieces displayed that she had never seen before. This makes repeat visits interesting.

The first thing I noticed was that the placards were in English and Italian and that the English was good! Whoever is doing translations for the museum has done an excellent job.

Image copyright Museo del Ricamo

While the Embroidery Museum is indeed small (there are only two exhibition rooms), there is a valuable collection housed here and you could spend many days studying the excellently displayed and well-lit pieces. In the second room are two large storage cabinets filled with drawers full of embroidered things. Lots of Punto Antico, Casalguidi and even some Lamporecchio embroideries along with many other Italian and classic needlework techniques are to be found here along with gold and silk embroideries too. The elderly custodian showed us an amazing bedspread embroidered by his mother when she was young.

An exciting thing to find out was that the museum offers a research centre, documentation, didactic and historic study. I will definitely be going back!

You can watch a quick YouTube video which is narrated in Italian but which has a few photos of the interior of the museum and a few pieces of it's collection. The narrator says:

Passing through Pistoia, when you are in the Piazza del Duomo, don't miss visiting the museum, you will be amazed. Even in a few minutes you can see the most important finds. The entrance is free, the personnel are available, cordial and competent.
The Rospigliosi Palazzo is the home of the Embroidery Museum, a cave of wonders constructed with knowledge by patient hands. Exhibited here are hand-made articles embroidered in many techniques from the 17th to the 20th century. There are embroidered trousseaux, clothing, tablecloths, doilies and much more. Sacred vestments and antique ecclesiastical clothing of great quality are on display.
Periodically the museum gives embroidery courses. The embroideresses have produced and continue to produce cushions, purses and antique clothing. A 62 segment quilt was made in 2012. Francesco del Cossa's embroideresses.
In the hope that these few hurried images may have stimulated your interest, we await you certain to not disappoint. 


  1. I went to this museum a few years ago, it is lovely isn't it. I always enjoy reading about your trips to Italy so thank you very much!

  2. Hello, I enjoy your blog very much. I have a question for you. I am making a folk costume from Castrovillari in Calabria for a friend of mine. I have figured out most of it, but Calderini says that "La camicia di tela fine, fittamente increspata sotto le sprone e ornata di piccoli ricami, ha miniche lunghe ed ampie, pure fittamente increspate con ricami, all'attaccatura e ai piccoli polsi." What kind of embroidery would be used? and also I am not completely sure where the embroidery would be, Thank you

  3. Roman. I don't know anything about Calabrian embroidery. Let me ask around and see if any of my contacts in Italy can tell me something. Do you have a deadline?

  4. I am in the process of making it now. On the photos of the reproductions which I have seen, I see no evidence of embroidery. It sounds like the embroidery would be a narrow band either on the edge of the yoke and cuff, or across the smock/gathers themselves, similar to English smocking, which is actually very widespread across Europe. The more that I read the description, the more I think that the embroidery is actually across the smocking.
    The only examples which I have been able to find of Calabrian Embroidery are from 'The Peasant Art of Italy', by Charles Holmes which shows a sort of Holbein/running stitch on what appear to be blankets or bedcovers. The motifs are the standard eight point stars and pairs of birds flanking the tree of life and fountains. I would be glad of any information which you might come up with, But I am on a roll and do not want to lose my momentum. I will send you a link to my blog when I finish, I intend to photograph and write about it. Folkcostume.blogspot.com
    Thank you for your reply

  5. Roman, I have been unsuccessful finding out anything specific. I did find that there is a museum but they do not have an email address or website:
    Museo Artigianato Tessile
    Via Re Ruggero, 9,
    89127 Reggio Calabria, Italy
    Phone:+39 0965 336155

    I'd be interested in your progress. I've tried to find an email addy for you but have been unable to do so. Please contact me via email (view my profile for the address) if you would like to continue this discussion. I'd like to keep the comments specific to the post topic.