Updated: Oct 15
DISCLAIMER: I am sharing with the world wide web what I have learned, used and what are my preferences when creating with wool. I, in no way condone nor abhor the use of man-made material for textiles.
A decade ago sheep from Marche, the province of Macerata in central Italy, were in danger of extinction.
A beautiful Italian breed named Sopravissana.
A crossbreed with both Spanish and Rambouillet Merino with the domestic Italian Vissana, origin of Visso in Monti Sibillini, during the 18th century resulted in the SopraVissana. In lose Italian translation it means “Lived On”.or "Above Vissana" the sheep graze on mountain tops surrounding the village of Visso.
The Vissana is now believed to be extinct, no records note herds since the year 2000 when they were lightly scattered throughout Umbria and the Tuscan Region.
When good results from bad...
In August 2016 an earthquake measuring 6.2 on the Richter Scale, devastated central Italy´s communities, economy and stability. Marche was the most impacted, resulting in 299 deaths and hundreds more injured. The destruction of one of their most important Unesco World Heritage landmarks, The Rose Window and the Church of St. Augustine, dating back to the XIV century were destroyed. Damages to frescoes by Giotto and historical buildings continue to be at risk today.
These tragic events in turn enabled the Sopravissana survive, (eluding extinction as the Vissana), breed and now lives up to its name. It has become one of the most lush Italian Merino wools in the textile industry allowing economic growth to the earthquake impacted area.
Rediscovering the Sobrevissana...
In the mid 20th century there were over one million sopravissana ewes, rams and lambs registered in Italy. In 2016 under 6000 were registered and numbers continued to decline.
What sets these sheep apart from other crossbred examples is their fleece, it is white with little to no color contrast. A medium sized animal mainly bred for its size for meat and quality of milk for cheeses, the fleece was not considered a commodity until recently.
After the 2016 earthquake two brothers from a luxury Italian clothing company were ingenious enough to help the area resurrect with artisanal industry when all governmental aid and financial help lagged or did not arrive once the region was out of the spot light nor mentioned in the evening news.
Forcing people to consider abandoning what was salvaged from their homes and businesses after the quake with very little to start over, The Company of Master Artisans of Visso was created and by chance they were made aware of the qualities of the sheep found grazing on the mountains. The company has enabled master artisans to continue their trade and to reintroduce local crafts with the creation of a "lifestyle" brand using sobrevissana wool. Sustainability and tradition is its focus and have saved a now treasured animal from its predecessors fate.
I am fortunate to have 3 kilos of sopravissana wool sitting on my work bench waiting to be transformed into cloth. A possible future blog entry will describe all the "ooo´s" and "ah´s" of this now coveted wool.
Like the hidalga sheep, the sopravissana are transhumance animals, they are also known to adapt to their surroundings. Shepheards in Vissa have discretely continued the tradition of breeding sopravissana sheep in higher altitudes grazing on thorns and thistle in open fields which aids in the development of their unique fleece.
Currently considered one of the most valuable merinos, an exceptionally thin, soft fibre, pleasing to be worn. With increased insulating properties for the wearer to be protected both from the cold and heat.
It is currently being traditionally processed by multi-scouring to remove all the impurities and lanolin without compromising the shaft, the texture nor its versatility and quality. The long staples of the fleece spin up a long draw fine spin into a cobweb weight yarn. It can also be spun to a thicker multi plied yarn without a long draw.
Caring for handmade natural Merino wool garments...
Merino wool is known to not felt easily, it really needs lots of friction, manipulation and extremely hot water to reach a felt.
It is not difficult to care for merino if one wants to have the convenience of using the washing machine .
Use mild soap.
NO bleach, ( chlorine gas), bleach ruins the merino fiber.
NO fabric softener, fabric softener coats the fibers, reducing their ability to naturally manage moisture and regulate body temperature.
Again, I recommend soaking and hand washing.
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