Traditional Bobbin Lace Making in Offida, Le Marche

Traditional handmade bobbin lace has been made for centuries in Le Marche, and most notably in a beautiful medieval village called Offida, a lovely medieval village just two hills from home.

Fortunately today there are still women who make this beautiful art, and you can visit them and buy pieces of lace. It’s a dying art form as it’s so labor intensive, but once you see and feel real handmade lace, you’ll have a deep appreciation for the craft.

Here’s a little video I made featuring Rosa, an amazing lace maker and the mother of 2 men who own one of our favorite fish restaurants on the coast: Don Diego

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.

Cupola in Offida

Cupola in Offida

2 comments to Traditional Bobbin Lace Making in Offida, Le Marche

  • Fascinating! I spent a considerable amount of time learning about the silk weaving industry in China and later in Europe and I see a lot of parallels to this extraordinary lace making you show here.

    What is – to me – especially interesting is the connection between women, textiles and the development of the computer. The Jacquard weaving loom was invented to create silks that could compete in complexity with the silk woven by women,by hand, in China. The Jacquard weaving loom is widely recognized as an important forerunner to today’s computer, as it used cards and various automated ways to track complex patterns.

    I often get frustrated when women tend to shy away from digital technology, since in many ways it is an imitation of their own skill sets! I like to say that if you can bake a cake, sew a quilt – and certainly – make this lace!! – you can do everything you need to with digital media.

    Also it is worth noting that for several centuries, silk was the only acceptable way to pay taxes in China, and all silk was produced as a result of women’s household labor. I believe it is the only instance of a currency being created out of women’s work!

    • I did not know that the jacquard
      loom is a forerunner to computers! Lace here in Europe was also household women’s work…and in some cases was a form of liberation, allowing women to be independent (sort of)

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