Offida’s Lace

February 14, 2012 / Places
Offida, Le Marche

Some local experts cite the fourteenth century as the onset of il merletto al tombolo (pillow spun lace) in Offida, others a bit later. In the sixteenth century the intricate lacework first appeared on the collars of personages painted by Marchigiano master Simone De Magistris. On a wooden door of the early seventeenth century St. Augustine church, an angel wears a transparent gown bordered with the delicate – truly angelic – bobbin lace of Offida. By this time, bobbin lace from Offida was in great demand all over Europe and when Offidani soldiers headed off to battle, even their armour was trimmed with merletto al tombolo!

In summertime, the local signore sit in the shade of the main piazza’s porticoes, chatting, hands and bobbins flying as they create miracles of intricacy and finery. If you make it there, Offida’s most famous merlettaia, Rosina, always at work just inside her little shop, appropriately named “il Gioiello“. Rosina learned to create lace “jewels” from her mother who had learned from her grandmother and has been creating masterpieces since she was ten years old. This three-generation span of lace work artisans is immortalized in a sculpture not far from the shop: grandmother, mother and daughter diligently working, heads bowed over their tomboli. The walls of Rosina’s shop are lined with photos of her masterpieces, including bridal trousseaus for world-famous people. There was even a photo of Naomi Campbell in a short dress made only of Offidana lace.

Rich merchants no longer leave Offida, horses laden with lace. Visitors purchase little: Offida lace works are masterpieces requiring hours of labor. Rosina picked up a delicate little lace little butterfly which she sells for 6 Euro: “Lo vede, Signora? Due ore di lavoro. Chi oggi lavora per tre Euro all’ora? Il nostro merletto finira’” (“Do you see this, Signora? Two hours of work. Who will work today for three euro an hour? Our lacework will end…”)

She proudly unrolled two of her most stunning masterpieces, a black lace shawl, and a centerpiece work of art. “No one will ever be able to buy these… so I will just keep them.”

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Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An authorized Umbrian tour guide, Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s so rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for her. See Umbria from “the inside”: join her May 2017 ten-day tour centered on discovering Umbria, Anne’s Umbria.

See www.annesitaly.com for more on her Umbria tours. Do see www.stayassisi.com for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out.

Anne writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. Read about her annual U.S. Feb/Mar cooking classes and lectures, as well as her numerous Italy insights on her blog.

21 Responses to “Offida’s Lace”

  1. Angela Melczer

    Rosina’s smile is as lovely as her lace! Thank you or sharing both with us.

    Reply
  2. Gian Banchero

    I do hope that the secrets to this type of lace making are being passed on, the work of these women is of museum quality that will inspire all for generations… At the turn of the 20th century my Sicilian grandmother was taught by cloistered nuns fine lacework in the Byzantine-Arab-Franco styles (I have one of her samplers, unbelievably intricate work!!), sadly no one in the family had the time to be taught the art and two or three local Italian American organizations didn’t consider her work relevant to their “progressive” aspirations, so along with Nonna’s passing also an ancient art form seemingly evaporated. Though all isn’t lost being a friend who is a very competent craftswoman looked at the sampler and said that an experienced lace maker could replicate the designs and techniques, that “all isn’t lost”. Oh, the sampler–which would be the envy of any lace maker–was created when my grandmother was nine years old!!!… Thankfully my family has her vast collection of shawls that she knitted over an eighty year span, all works of art, all reflecting the ancient past.

    Reply
  3. George Virgilio

    No one can truly appreciate lace making until they have done it themself. To see those fingers so deftly and swiftly manipulate the bobbins knowing where each is to be placed during the knotting process is only truly appreciated when you try to do it, whether it is knit, crochet(my personal method), or bobbin. How many of us have pieces of lace created by a grandmother or aunt from years ago when it was a favorite passtime? Let’s hope the tradition gets passed on forever.

    Reply
  4. Peggy Cahill

    That black lace shawl is indeed a work of art! Perhaps Offida would consider taking in an inquisitive apprentice to learn and then preserve the tradition. Sign me up!

    Reply
  5. Virginia C. Mars

    It is so sad when such crafts (art, really) are lost. However, perhaps if the prices were raised, more women would consider it worth their time to learn and preserve the tradition. But like many things, there are probably Chinese women who also make lace for cheaper prices. Let’s hope that there are those who will carry on the lace making just because they love to do it.

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  6. Corinne A. Shanahan

    I’m with you Peggy Cahill. I have always wanted to learn
    this wonderful and beautiful art (I crochet and do cut work
    taught by my Mother)but I have yet to find an instructor.

    Reply
  7. Rande Shaffer

    A bit off the subject of lace, but a comment about Anne Robichaud who contributed this article. I had the distinct pleasure of participating in one of Anne’s cooking classes here in Southern California last night, and I must let everyone know that it is truly something not to be missed. Anne is outstanding and I urge anyone with any sort of interest in cooking to seek out the opportunity to cook with Anne, it is a life changing experience!

    Reply
  8. bellissimi! I too had great grandmothers and grandmothers who could do this of work – Sicilians and Napolitani, but sadly it did not make its way down to me! Although I am a painter, so perhaps, hopefully, their artistic talent was passed down in some small way to me. It is always sad when traditions die. Thank you @italiannotebook. com for keeping it alive!

    Reply
  9. Jackie Capurro

    Can you post a picture of the statue of the grandmother, mother and daughter creating their merletto? I’d love to see it!

    Reply
  10. Mary Cappiello

    Anne always has such fine pictures to illustrate her always highly informative and delightful articles!

    Reply
  11. So tombolo is pillow……thankyou !
    I adore the vocabulary you give us…..

    Time is the currency of Love……
    =…….Beauty is given by way of time

    “It is the time you have devoted to your rose that makes your rose so important” said the fox.A.St Exepury / the Little Prince

    Reply
    • GB Bernardini

      Well, yes, in a way. Tombolo is the drum shaped pillow used specifically for making lace. The word for the pillow that one uses to rest their head or behind on is “cuscino” (more or less pronounced, koo-SHEE-no).

      Reply
  12. Anne Robichaud always posts the most interesting stories, and has a keen ear for what will soon, unfortunately be lost. I too was lucky enough to attend one of her cooking sessions in New York City, and I will never forget how delicious, and how much fun, the evening was. Looking forward to seeing her again soon on her cooking tours.

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  13. No doubt taking a great cooking class with Anne is such fun – but we had the pleasure of two full days in Italy (Perugia/Deruta/Spello/Assisi) with Anne last fall and if you think cooking is fun, you should catch up with her in Umbria. It is a great treat!

    Reply
  14. Janet Eidem

    Annie! Another marvelous vignette of Italian beauty. Brava. May your trip be blessed and generously sprinkled with joy and laughter.

    Reply
  15. I remember my mother taking me to Offida when I was a child. My parents came from a town in the Le Marche not far from Offida. Even as a young girl I was amazed by the beauty of the lace and the work involved in its creation. I am fortunate enough to have several table runners and doilies made in Offida. They are among my most prized possessions.

    Reply
  16. I have just taken up knitting and crochet… That is hard enough, but to do the bobbin lace seems impossibly, incredibly fantastic! Actually, I remember reading this interview or one very like it, in a magazine a long time ago and I have always remembered it and here it is! It is devastating that these skills are being lost. It is sad that in this modern age no one wants to learn these skills from their mothers or grandmothers and forgetting their heritage and these extraordinary skills. I would love to learn but how can anyone replicate the skills of someone who made masterpieces at ten and has been doing it for decades? Maybe one day there will be funded apprenticeships so this skill is not lost.

    Reply

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