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A young lace maker

Photo: Robert Zabukovec

Idrija lace is a form of bobbin lace which has been made in Idrija for centuries; there, the famous Idrija Lace School has been in continuous operation since 1876.

Idrija  is home to a distinctive form of bobbin lace . In some parts of Europe, lacemaking is referred to as "miner's art" because of its historical association with mining towns. Lacemaking began in Idrija towards the end of the seventeenth century, when work in the town's mercury mine began to dry up. 

At first the lace was made of coarse flax thread and was mainly intended for the local market: to decorate churches and priest's vestments and to adorn the homes and clothes of wealthier peasants. As a result of the ever-increasing demand for high-quality lace, schools were set up to help lacemakers refine their skills. 

Idrija lace became known around the world in 1875 when Franc Lapajne established a lacemaking company and shop and began exporting lace throughout Europe and to America. In 1876 the lacemakers of Idrija opened their own lacemaking school under the guidance of Ivanka Ferjančič. The sale of lace thrived until the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Idrija's lacemakers won many awards, including international ones.

It was in this period that Idrija lace took on its own distinctive form and a lacemaking technique using seven pairs of bobbins gained universal acceptance. 

Idrija lace is characterised by a specific repertoire of techniques refined over the course of many years and by a number of typical patterns. The most distinctive Idrija lacemaking technique is the "ris", a tape traditionally made with between six and eight pairs of bobbins. A distinction is made between the broad tape, which dominated during the Austro-Hungarian period, and the narrow tape style (also known as the "Idrija style") that developed under Italian influence in the period after the First World War. 

At around the turn of the twentieth century, lacemaking spread to the Cerkljansko (Cerkno Hills) and Trnovski Gozd (Trnovo Forest) areas and into the valleys of Selška Dolina and Poljanska Dolina, thanks to courses and schools where Idrija lacemakers acted as teachers. 

The development of Idrija lace in Idrija continues under the aegis of the Idrija Lace School , the Idrija Municipal Museum , the Idrija Lacemakers' Society  and the Idrija Lace Festival , which acts as the main promoter of the other three institutions. Visitors to the Idrija Lace Festival can view an exhibition of lace, watch the national lacemaking competition for the Ivanka Ferjančič Prize, attend lacemaking workshops and lectures, buy lacemaking equipment, lace and lace products, visit an arts and crafts fair, and so on. 

In 2004 a one-year project called Land of Lace  was organised as part of the Culture 2000 programme. Four years later, the Idrija Municipal Museum won the Valvasor Award for its permanent exhibition Idrija Lace: A History Written in Thread .

Princess Akishino of Japan recently wrote a poem dedicated to the silent language of the hands of children making Idrija lace, as her contribution to the Utakai Hajime – a traditional poetry reading at the imperial palace in Tokyo. This followed the princess's visit to the Idrija Lace School as part of her official visit to Slovenia in 2014. 

In recognition of the long tradition of lacemaking in Slovenia, the government has pro-claimed Idrija lace and lacemaking in Slovenia "a living masterpiece of national importance". Slovenia is also seeking the inclusion of Idrija lace and lacemaking in Slovenia on UNESCO's List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Text by Tanja Glogovčan