Ginestra: The Plant that Challenged Calabria’s Women Weavers
Updated: Apr 15, 2021
At first glance the bright yellow flowers of the ginestra plant encourage you to
come closer – to examine the beauty pf each delicate petal and to marvel at the
flexibility of the stems – stems that could be cured and woven into sheets, towels,
tablecloths and clothing that would become staples of family life in the isolated
mountains of Calabria.
The craft was brought to Calabria by Jewish women running from the Inquisition
who, having discovered the special uses for ginestra, encouraged entire
mountain communities to gather ginestra branches.
Known in the western world as “broom”, the ginestra branches were tied with
string and soaked in a copper pot filled with boiling water. Following the fibers’
hot bath, the branches were placed in the rushing water of the Amato River
where a little mountain of rocks held the ginestra in place while it softened under
water for one week.
When local weavers pronounced the fibers soft enough, the interior fibers were
pulled from the branches and woven into a coarse but sturdy fabric that
Calabrian mountain women wove into mats, blankets, grain sacks and shopping
bags – coverings, containers and clothing of all kinds.
During the war years of the early 1940’s poverty was rampant in Calabria. The
women of the family, particularly the “nonne” (grandmothers) recalled their
ginestra days and began to weave ginestra cloth to be used for children’s clothing.
The story is told of young Giuseppe who was adamant that he attend the local
school in Serrastretta. With nothing to wear but tattered shorts, Giuseppe’s
grandmother made him a pair of pants from woven ginestra cloth. Giuseppe
recalls how the coarse cloth rubbed his legs raw and to this day refers to his
ginestra “pantaloni” as “my pants that stood up by themselves!”
Calabria Treasures offers a variety of items made from ginestra – some nearly 100
years old. These distinctive pieces were part of every household and each one
evokes memories from stories told by grandmothers and great grandmothers.