June 3, 2024

A trip to Antico Setificio Fiorentino

Have you ever found yourself in a place, while traveling, where you can’t quite believe what you’re seeing? I’ve had it a few times in my life, and most recently, when I visited Antico Setificio Fiorentino, a historic silk mill in Florence, Italy.

Antico Setificio Fiorentino

It’s a cliché to say that you feel transported back in time, and yet, standing among clattering 18th century hand-powered fabric looms, and spinning devices invented by Leonardo DaVinci, it felt like I’d walked through some kind of portal. I’ve never seen machines like those in a museum before, let alone still being actively used for a commercial venture, and yet as I walked around the small factory on the southern bank of the Arno, I saw intricate, hand-carved wooden equipment using some of the first punch cards (proto computers!), innumerable pedals and gears, and thousands upon thousands of tiny threads to create intricate silk fabrics.  It was nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Antico Setificio was set up in the 18th century as a storehouse, and then atelier, for the silk weaving and fabrics of the noble families of Florence.  Lines on the walls show where the Arno flooded and almost destroyed the studio – but it was purchased by designer Stefano Ricci in 2010 and the whole workshop was restored. While it looks like a museum, it’s still a working atelier, where the original looms, techniques and designs are still used to create some of the finest silk fabrics in the world, including damasks, brocades and shimmering two-toned taffetas.



As part of my tour, I was taught how to use the oldest loom, which weaves trims like fringe. It took a little getting used to, coordinating two pedals, a comb, and passing the spindle back and forth by hand between the threads, but after a while I got the hang of it and had a few moments of being part of the busy ecosystem of the factory. Being thoroughly middle-aged my back started hurting before long, so fair to say that artisanal fringe maker is probably not the career for me. It’s created as one, double-sided, strip, and so I can either cut it down the middle to make two narrow fringes, or close to one edge to create one wider fringe. The only decision now is whether to add it as fringe to a garment or a cushion…


At the end of my visit, I was taken around the showroom which has lots of incredibly beautiful hand-made fabrics including trims, cording and some ready-made cushions. I thought I might go a little wild and buy a meter for some cushions.. until I found out the one I had my eye on was Euro 1,000 a meter! Frankly, having seen how it’s manufactured, I don’t begrude the price – it is, after all, some of the most luxurious fabric in the world, used for the Pope’s robes, mega yachts and the like – but at this precise moment 4 figure cushion covers probably aren’t for me.

Thank you to Maria Rita and Jasmine who showed me around, and Luana who taught me how to weave on the loom – it was such an amazing experience and will be a treasured memory.

Four women at Antico Setificio Fiorentina

Visits to Antico Setificio Fiorentino are available by appointment only. Contact them here for more details and availability. The opening hours are Monday to Friday 9.30am – 1pm, 2 – 6pm (closed at weekends), and the address is Via Lorenzo Bartolini, 4, 50124 Firenze FI, Italy

6 thoughts on “A trip to Antico Setificio Fiorentino

  1. Susan says:

    I went there several years ago, and it’s truly an amazing place! The soft hand of the fabric was remarkable, completely different than the hand of modern machine-made textiles. One of the machines was from a design by Leonardo DaVinci, which was super cool. I highly recommend a visit if you’re ever in Florence!

  2. Erika Livingstone says:

    Just WOW! Thank you for sharing! What an amazing experience!

  3. Marion says:

    Great read but also – is your dress a pattern? I love it!

    1. Ayelet says:

      It’s a ready-to-wear dress, sorry!

      -Ayelet at Cashmerette

  4. Yvonne says:

    Looks amazing and what history, thankfully someone with a passion to put it back to its former glory bought the place.

  5. Becky says:

    Having taught Textiles at a local college and trying to explain “punch cards” for looms, I only wish I had your videos. Exquisite and so lovely…what a fantastic experience for you.

Let me know what you think!