Idrija Lace – beauty created with needle, bobbin and thread

Lace-maker's art, carried on in Idrija by the miner's wives, has developed its own patterns and still has a future. Photo: Municipal museum Idrija archive

July 2009

For centuries, Idrija lace has been a synonym for quality, prestige and an established reputation. The deeply rooted values that are expressed in Idrija lace are highly discernable and alluring.

It is not known precisely when and from where lacemaking skills came to Idrija; however, it is probably true that the lacemaking craft was brought to our parts by the wives of miners and mining experts from German and Czech lands who came to work in the Idrija mine.

The beginnings of lacemaking in Slovenia date back to the 16th century. The frescoes found in some churches (Crngrob, St. Primož above Kamnik) testify to the widespread popularity of the lacemaking craft, as later described by the Slovenian polymath Janez Vajkard Valvasor in his famous book, The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola (1689). The oldest written source revealing the existence of this craft in Slovenia dates from 1696 and speaks of lace and lacemakers from Idrija.

Idrija Lace School since 1876

Idrija housewives began to make lace as early as around 1696. Photo: Franci Virant

Since lacemaking skills were, for the most part, traditionally handed down from generation to generation, the introduction of organised lacemaking lessons in the form of courses and schools was both important and necessary. A lacemaking school was opened in Ljubljana in 1764 by Empress Maria Theresa, but the school operated for only a short time. A good hundred years later (1876), the school was re-established in Idrija and has continued to operate to this day. In the beginning, the school was run by a native of Idrija, Ivanka Ferjančič (1850–1879). The new technique of making bobbin lace with seven pairs of bobbins, which spread rapidly and gained popularity after Ferjančič's arrival from Tyrol, proved to be very successful.

Through the decades, the Idrija Lace School has trained a great many excellent lacemakers. Many became lacemaking teachers in the local environment, while others travelled far across Europe, and so the lacemaking skills and model of the Idrija Lace School spread to many countries. The Idrija Lace School, which also has branches elsewhere in Slovenia and offers various lacemaking courses around the country, ensures the preservation of numerous lacemaking techniques and elements that are rarely used in the most common lace products. The school is active in Slovenia as well as in other European areas, and through various activities and projects it connects Slovenian and foreign lacemaking centres.

Idrija lace - beauty created with needle, bobbin and thread. Photo: UKOM archive

Guided by the belief that Idrija lace – our heritage of the past – represents a challenge for the future, the Municipality of Idrija submitted the name "Idrija Lace" to the Slovenian Intellectual Property Office for an official "geographical indication". In line with Slovenian legislation, this designation certifies that lace products bearing the name "Idrija Lace" are made of natural materials using traditional techniques and on patterns that may be copies of lace heritage, elements of the Lace School or the original designs of lacemakers, and consist of only those bases, elements and techniques that have received the prescribed number of points during evaluation. The awarded geographical indication not only brings economic potential, but also advantageous indirect benefits enjoyed by the region. Among the most important is undoubtedly the barely visible, yet continuous addition of new values to the "Land of Idrija Lace".

Vesna Žarkovič, Sinfo July/August 2009