the Spinning LAb
In Thiene, in the ancient Capovilla district, then San Vincenzo and now Via San Camillo de Lellis, in front of the Aedicula with the Madonna on the throne between Saints Joseph and Antonio almost close to the ancient church of San Vincenzo, the Hemp processing laboratory owned by the Verona family of Thiene.
The only existing example, testifying to an artisan activity that has now disappeared, this workshop was able, until a few years ago, to completely perform its functions. Francesco Verona (1894-1990) known as Barba Sogáro, not for the beard he never had, but for having inherited the nickname from his uncle as well as the laboratory (Barba in Venetian dialect means uncle, Sogáro means rope maker), he walked up and down a long passage shaded by age-old mulberries with the skein of hemp, reducing it into twine and then into a large rope.
This corner of Thiene still retains its medieval appearance, almost intact, perhaps thanks to Barba himself, who had never wanted to adapt to the times. Born in 1894 (worked until 1985) he had never wanted to modernize the laboratory. Even the electric light had been excluded from this exercise suspended in time and completely careless of the industrialization processes. When it began to get dark, we would go home or go to some neighbor’s barn to repair work tools.
The raw hemp arrived from Ferrara in bales of about 100 kg each, which were unraveled and divided into two parts: the more woody part was used to obtain the raw thread for the larger strings, with the other, the heart, a superior quality yarn, which was used for thin ropes or for weaving canvas.
To crack the hemp a sturdy wooden pole was used, planted on the ground, called the “Croce“, crossed, at about 180 cm from the ground, by an iron where the Barba or his family beat the hemp stalks vigorously until they were reduced to many filaments . Then he proceeded to pull the hemp, split, over a “Sgránfio” so that the thinner part remained in the hands of the Barba. The final part of the work, namely combing, consisted of passing the hemp many times over the thin rods of a hemp comb until a first choice fiber came out, with which thin ropes were obtained for various uses.
Francesco Verona, also known as Bàrba Sogaro, took a large bundle of hemp under his arm, attached the ends of the thread on cylinders of different sizes according to the size of the “Botesèle” rope and started spinning. The route, in general, was sixty meters long, as it was along the “Andio“, the path belonging to the laboratory. Depending on the thickness of the rope, three or four threads were joined by means of an “Arbùio“, which were then immersed in a stone water tank, to soften them and make them more suitable for processing.
A daughter of Bàrba, Maria or Valentina, held and managed the “Cào”, which kept the sections of the strings still separate from the “Bote∫éle” side, and from the “Arbùio” side the section of the rope already formed. The one who progressively made the Cào slide towards the Bote∫éle gave the right compactness to the weave, knowing how to adjust the movement.
The finished rope was scraped with a “Smàja” metal mesh to make it less bristly to the touch. A large wheel called “Mòla” was the driving motor: it was made to turn slowly by hand in order to set in motion the cylinders that made the hemp threads twist.
The ropes of various sizes were loaded on the wooden cart or on the bicycle handlebar and finally sold on the Monday market in Thiene, in other nearby markets, or directly in the laboratory. The Barba served the whole district, from the plateau to the merchants of Vicenza. Those who supplied themselves for the first time asked about the Barba and everyone knew how to show the way, he was so well known. Correspondence also arrived without an address, sometimes it was enough to write:
… and the mail arrived regularly.
Barba died in 1990, but the laboratory with all its tools, jealously guarded by his daughter and grandson, continues today to bear witness to an ancient art thanks to the recovery and passion for a job that has now disappeared.