History Of Textile

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An Introduction To The Textile Tradition

13th century. The manufacturing of clothes developed in the city and in the Bisenzio Valley. The wool workers of Prato had become specialists in the use of wool and devoted themselves to the calimala art (a special process that softens and improves the appearance of cloth).

14th century
Prato wool craftsmen, united by the wool guild, regulated the manufacturing and the trade of cloth through laws and statutes, that were gradually updated.
Francesco di Marco Datini greatly boosted the Prato textile industry and trade. Through a network of his stores, the woollen cloth extended to many European countries enabling in return, the importation of valuable coloured fabrics through the same routes.

15th century Because of the commercial development begun by Datini, and the establishment of an expertise in the manufacturing of cloth, Prato flourished and enjoyed a period of comfort. During this time important works of art were commissioned to great masters such as Filippo Lippi, Giuliano da Sangallo, and Mino da Fiesole that are witness the town's cultural advancement.

16th century
The "Sacco"(Sack) of 1512, a terrible pillage made by Spanish militias, gave a hard blow to the economy of Prato.

17th centuryIn spite of a growth in production techniques, especially in dyeing, this was a period of recession for wool manufacturers.

18th century The economic policy of the Granducato of Tuscany, which was then under the rule of the Lorena family, helped to improve the textile industry. The Chamber of Commerce which superseded the outdated Guilds was established. By the end of the century the first important wool factory was founded by Giovacchino Mazzoni, which produced red caps destined to Middle-Eastern markets. In 1788 the Grand Duchy established a special money prize for the number of caps sold. This was the first incentive in favour of Prato manufacturers.

19th century
A learned mechanical technician, Giovan Battista Mazzoni, improved spinning machines and designed projects. Also thanks to his work, Prato starts feeling the positive effects of industrial revolution, which reach the top when, by the middle of this century, a process of regeneration cuttings taken from tailors' workshops and using knitwear and other garments comes into use. This material which comes from different parts of the world, is carefully selected and transformed in a special kind of wool, which takes the adjective of "regenerated". This wool enables the production of cheap carded cloths, often mixed with virgin wool. These products are sold all over the world and Prato textile activity steadily develops.

20th century
From the Sixties, we can see a substantial renewal in machines and technologies and the use of regenerated raw-materials turns to materials of superior quality, coming directly from the garment industry.
At the same time, in the textile district of Prato an important production diversification towards high quality items, using valuable fibres (virgin wools, cashemere, silk, linen, cotton, viscose, microfibres, etc.) comes into use.

Francesco di Marco Datini (1335 - 1410)

The life and commercial activity of Francesco di Marco Datini are strictly connected with the economical and social history of the city of Prato.

Having lost his father to the plague while still a child, he left his hometown for Avignon where he set up business. First in weapons trade and later spices, jewels, woollen cloth, flax, and silk. After returning to Prato he extended his business founding a new company in Pisa as well as in Florence that focused primarily on the main commercial routes; commercialisation of wool from Majorca, Catalonia, Provence and cloth made in Florence and Prato.

This expanded further with the opening of companies in Genoa and Barcelona and agencies in Valencia and Majorca which were fundamental for the importation of wool, skins, products used in the dying of wool, in particular different colours such as orchil and the so called "grama". These posts were also known for the Arab craftmanship of majolica ware as well as slave importation.

However, Datini's activity was not simply limited to commerce: in 1396, in Prato, he founded an industrial company for the production of woollen cloth and two years later he founded a bank in Florence.

The Datini Palace,which was built near the old Porta Fuia, was the main centre of his activity and offered luxurious hospitality to several famous people of the time, among them: Francesco Gonzaga, Lord of Mantua, and Luigi II D'Angiò, the King of Sicily, who granted him the privilege of using the golden lily of Florence in his coat of arms. Although he did not seem to be particularly religious he always contributed to the moneterial assistance of the friars of San Francesco, contributing to the expenses for the restoration of the decor of the Franciscan church.

Then in 1399 he took part in the pilgrimage of "I Bianchi"(lit. the Whites), a movement in which members travelled to various lands barefoot and dressed in white linen, praying and the reconciliation of contrasting factions.

Datini, who was by this time a convert, founded "il ceppo dei poveri"(which takes its name from the traditional hollowed trunk located inside churches where parishioners put alms for the poor) for the assistance of the pilgrims and the sick. It was to this institution, whose enormous capital would support the city for centuries, that Datini, in his will, left his business and trading estate.

In homage, after his death, the outer walls of his palace were decorated with the stories of his life. His image is preserved in the marble slab located on the grave of San Francesco and has been further celebrated in portraits painted through the centuries. It was at of the Eighteenth century that a marble statue was dedicated to him and was erected in the Piazza del Comune (the square in front of the Town Hall).


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