Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Lacemakers of Offida

Making 'merletto' on the 'tombolo'
In the central Italian province of Le Marche there's a small town called Offida. It's a walled hilltop town covering about 50 sq kms, at about 300 m ASL, and has a little over 5,000 inhabitants. And it's famous for handmade lace, called 'merletto'. The lace is tatted on stuffed oval pillows in a time-honoured tradition. The old ladies of Offida can be found in their doorways, tatting away, ready to sell you an exquisite little bit of lace to take home.

Offida - a quiet town.

This Informative blog post tells us:
Bobbin lace (also called bone or pillow lace) takes its name from the way it is made: on a firm pillow (once filled with straw) to which a pattern is tacked and each twist of the bobbins is held in place by a pin.
We know that by the mid 1500′s bobbin lacemaking was known in both Venice and Flanders, yet it’s unknown as to exactly when and where it began. It soon became fashionable throughout Europe. Because of the many hours of labor required to produce lace, it was worn as a sign of wealth and prosperity by the upper and also the middle classes.
In the 17-19th centuries there was a huge demand for lace, and to meet that demand many women became lace-makers. Bobbin lace has always been a cottage industry, allowing woman to earn their own money and create their own dowries.
Lace schools for village girls were founded by noblewomen, their patronage being paid for in lace.
Children started in these schools at about age five. They worked from dawn until dusk, often in crowded, unventilated rooms with the most primitive of sanitary facilities.
The people who spun the very fine thread (usually linen) that was used for lace making had to work in dark damp basements lit only by a small hole in the shutters to light the spinning wheel. This is because the fine thread would break if it dried out. I can only imagine just how miserable it was.
Today of course, woman work in well lit, heated areas (usually their homes) and also in the open piazzas, grouping together for company, work and woman talk.
Historic pics of young girls at work on the lace.
Shops full of exquisite lace.
The town hall in Offida. 
There's some History on the town website:
A cylindrical lace-pillow filled with sawdust, known as "lu capzzal", and white or unbleached threads are what lace-makers need to make all kinds of laces: handkerchieves, centrepieces, curtain trimmings, linen sheets, patterns with animal figures or floral motives and, recently, works for high fashion clothes.

The art of lace represents a typical woman’s tradition dating from the 1400s when it became popular first among the working class and later (17th century) among the religious communities and the noble families. The practice of laces became a mass phenomenon, particularly thanks to the Benedictine nuns that came to Offida in 1655.
In the 1600s a considerable number of lace works were produced: from tablecloths for altars to robes, from the princely ruffs to the white prelate’s gowns.
The Cooperativa Artigiana Merlettaie (the Artisan Cooperative of Lace-Makers) was founded in 1979, unique example of woman’s handicrafts in central-southern Italy. It has produced, and still does, the lace in this special Offida style and sells it retail.
Take home some lace.
A bronze monument to the lacemakers sits outside the walls.
The sculptor was Aldo Sergiacomi, in 1983.
Some lace, signora?

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