Sissi Castellano and Stefano Panconesi met in India at a world conference on natural colour and discovered that they shared a passion – a desire to rescue textile techniques from the verge of oblivion and to safeguard them by teaching others. Their home, Casa Clementina, is dedicated to these aims.
Born in Florence, Stefano Panconesi is an Economics graduate who wrote his thesis on the marketing of dye plants, while Sissi Castellano is a Milanese-born architect. Between them, they could count on many friends to help realise their dream to establish a centre for the preservation and propagation of natural dye. The welcoming atmosphere in their house is significant – from the very beginning it has been the site of exchanges and experiences that go beyond the textile industry.
Casa Clementina is in Italy's Pettinengo, near Biella (called 'the balcony of Biella' for its scenic location 700 metres above sea level). The 19th-century house belonged to Clementina Corte, an eccentric photographer and director but, abandoned for years, it had fallen into disrepair. When Sissi and Stefano arrived they began a detailed restoration. The deterioration of painted ceilings and ancient tapestries was halted and they filled the house with meaningful objects and treasured collections; such as Sissy’s miniature kitchen utensils which stand in their green and copper kitchen.
Sissi’s workshop is a work in progress, housing a growing library of fibres, small woven objects, yarns and looms. Stefano’s office is filled with cabinets fashioned from old windows which are stacked with books on natural dyes. Elsewhere his passion for vintage cameras and stereoscopic photography is in evident – only a wall used for film projection is kept clear.
A particular shade of turquoise dominates walls and window frames, providing a wonderful contrast to the building’s other materials – the dark wooden floors and shutters, the faded, unglazed terracotta floors in the bathrooms and the copper pipes and pans. Sissi explains her choice. 'There are two reasons I chose this particular blue-green: firstly, it echoes the chalky palette of the painters Giorgio Morandi and Carot. But I like chalky colours in general. They are often confused with pale or pastel colours but chalky colours can be rich, especially when saturated, though never bright. They are the colours of Wedgwood china, sculptors’ plaster casts and Turner’s romantic, poignant landscapes. Chalky colours don’t reflect light: rather, they absorb it, creating a certain softness.'
Sissi’s passion for these tones extends to the textiles she works with. 'While colours on silk tend to be brilliant and vibrant, chalky colours are at their best on vegetable fibres, especially bast fibres such as hemp, linen and nettle...'
To read this article in full, order your copy of Selvedge issue 57 here.
Casa Clementina is running courses in Natural Dyeing throughout the summer:
22 - 24 June, Natural Indigo Dye
28 July - 1 August, Silk-screen Printing with Natural Dye
28 - 30 September, Natural Dye with Lichens and Mushrooms
Find out more at www.casaclementina.eu
Photography by Peppe Maisto