Croatia’s hidden treasures: Lacemaking
When I see lace I think about fashion. These two have been inseparable throughout the centuries. You could find lace on collars, cuffs, hats, and accessories. It was a major part of dresses. Today in Croatia, lace is almost completely disconnected from fashion. Especially handmade lace, which is rarely used and has difficulty in achieving commercial success.
During historical times, lace-manufacturing was supported in the countries where there were numerous high class societies. Lacemaking was even a part of female education in courts. The development of fashion, manufacturing and wholesaling raised awareness to the historical background of the fabrics. Many countries wanted to prove that lacemaking originated from them. Despite this, the first book of patterns was published in Venice during the 15th century, containing patterns that were made mainly with needling-techniques and with less focus given to bobbins. Needle and bobbin techniques were the two essential techniques used for what we call lacemaking.
In Croatia, workshops of lacemaking came through Western European influence.. It is supposed that the earliest influences came from countries that today make up Austria and Germany. Lace produced there was thicker, with organic patterns of different shapes. The centre of this kind of lacemaking was little city of Lepoglava in the north of Croatia. The school of lacemaking, which organised numerous workshops, is located here and exists to this day.
Another wave of influence that came from Venice created a stronghold on the Island of Pag where the tradition is still alive. Here, lace is still made with needles, characterised by light structures and geometrical patterns. These features have remained unchanged since the Renaissance.
Lacemaking on the Island of Hvar was influenced by trade relationships with the Canary Islands during 19th century. Here, lace is made by Benedictine nuns in the convent of the town Hvar on the island with the same name. Even though it is very durable because it is made from agave leaves; this kind of lace is not suitable to wear. Hvar lace is also characterised by a light structure and geometrical patterns.
Although the lace from Hvar Island never left the walls of the convent walls, lace from Pag and Lepoglava became an integral part of traditional Croatian culture. The best example of this is the edges of traditional head covers from Pag.
The most special part about lacemaking in Croatia is its tight link to traditional culture. It was not just a high-class status symbol, but was available to everybody. This is the main reason why lacemaking in Croatia was classified as Intangible World Heritage by UNESCO (UNESCO, 2009.).
In Croatia today, handmade lace is rarely used. It is produced mainly to maintain the skill and safeguard the craft. The reason for it not being used is also due to a lack of interest in such expensive handmade items. With the rise of industrialisation, traditional culture decreased and therefore interest in handmade lace decreased too.
The question now is, would the high value and uniqueness of lace be jeopardised if the situation were to be switched and lace became a highly rated product? Croatia can only export this luxurious fabric in small amounts without changing its quality.
The fact that lacemaking in Croatia is protected as Intangible World Heritage does not mean that we are protecting the product itself, and my question is: Can we as Croatia give the world something like the world famous tie? The answer: For sure we can, because a tie originally comes from Croatia…and not only that, but we also have a rich tradition of lacemaking!