The story of Idrija lace

August 2008

The town of Idrija, according to its inhabitants, is known mainly for two things - one of them being the mercury mine and the other the world-famous Idrija lace.

Cloths and napkins, curtains and bed linen, clothes and ornaments for clothes, even earrings, necklaces and gloves, as well as business gifts are all products made of Idrija lace. It’s a fact that for a long time now the local women of Idrija have not only been making handkerchiefs and napkins out of lace, but also more diverse and useful things.

Bobbin lace-making from its beginnings

Idrija lace. Photo: Franci Virant

The craft of bobbin lace-making occupies a very important place in the history of Idrija. Idrija lace, which is part of the life of many Idrija families, since the beginning of this craft more than 300 years ago, has travelled to many parts of the world as a handicraft and art product. The term lace-making encompasses several methods of creating lace, such as sewing, crocheting, knitting and bobbin lace-making. In Idrija it is mainly the latter that is used.

Idria housewives began to make lace as early as around 1696. First, it was a product made of thick flax thread, and intended mainly for the domestic market, for various church dignitaries and also for the wealthier peasantry. Bobbin lace takes its name from the specially designed tools called bobbins which hold the cotton or flax thread.

In 1860, Štefan and Karolina Lapajne opened the first lace shop in Idrija. In the next few years, the Lapajne family won recognition in the markets of western and central Europe. Soon after, the Ministry of Trade in Vienna opened the first official lace-making school in Idrija, which has been open ever since. Until then, knowledge of bobbin lace-making was passed from generation to generation.

Schools of lace-making that emerged in the second half of the 19th century were designed to improve the knowledge of lace-makers, thus increasing the quality of lace destined for the market. Through the schools and teachers that taught this traditional craft, bobbin lace-making spread to other Slovenian regions like Cerkljansko, the surroundings of Trnovski gozd, to Selška dolina and to Poljanska dolina. After the Second World War, the mass production of lace slowly started to decline. The only people still engaged in bobbin lace-making were elderly women, who were trying to make extra money to supplement their meagre pensions.

For the purpose of trading with lace a lace-making cooperative was established, succeeded later by the Čipka (Lace) company. In the 1990s, when the craft began to regain its former glory, new sales galleries and studios emerged in Idrija and other parts of the country. Each year Lace Festival takes place in Idrija.