The beautiful lakeside city of Como lies just a few miles south of the Swiss border. Once a magnet for weavers working fabric on antique looms, Como silk now relies almost entirely on industrial production. It remains Europe’s silk capital, however, with silk houses producing patterns for Versace, Gucci, and other luxury designers in Milan and Paris. A scarf, tie, or other accessory made of Como silk remains one of Italy’s most coveted souvenirs.
Silk came to Como for two reasons. First, alpine streams and the lake itself provided a supply of water for the manufacturing process. Second, the Po River Valley was already a rich area for the cultivation of mulberry trees, which function as the silkworm’s natural habitat and its diet. Since the mid-twentieth century, most of the mills have imported silk thread from Asia. Although most of the production is now done by machine, a few finishing processes are still carried out by hand.
Today, Como boasts some 800 companies tied to the production, distribution, and marketing of silk, and the industry employs more than 20,000 locals. The ubiquitous silk mills are not generally open to the public, but specialty boutiques and a few factory stores offer an opportunity to put your hands on the goods.
Museo didattico della seta
Via Castelnuovo, 9
This small museum chronicles the history of silk in Como and offers a helpful overview of the silk production process. A variety of looms, bobbin weavers, color blocks, and other antique equipment used in the silkscreen process are displayed. There is also a small shop with finished products for sale.
Read more about the artisanal traditions of Italy in my guide, Made in Italy.
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