There is a small Town called Orvieto perched way up on a big black rock in the midst of fertile green valleys. Its medieval houses built one against the other have tiny windows brightened by tin cans and small boxes filled with red and pink geraniums. Orvieto is the lace town of Italy, women sit by the light of these windows or at their doorsteps and patiently stitch away. Little girls herding sheep in the pastures start with tiny rosettes which they bring to their mothers who, between work in the fields or house cleaning, join these rosettes with another stitch until the time has come to join the finished pieces on a linen foundation.
The Origin of Venetian Lace
There was once a fisherman’s daughter who was in love with a young fisherman. When the Doge of Venice, decided to make war in the Orient, he summoned all his men to fight far away by land and sea. At the moment of bidding farewell, the young man felt his eyes filling with tears and to hide his emotion from his fellows, plunged into the deep sea where beautiful seaweed suddenly appeared before him. He tore up the lovely flower of the sea and offered it to his betrothed as a token of his love.
While the young fisherman was fighting far away the girl waited a long and weary time by knotting for him the most beautiful fishing-net ever seen on the Adriatic: the thread was as fine as hair, and as strong as iron and the net was woven so neatly and close as to look like a fairy’s web. While working thoughtfully at her net the girl never lifted her eyes from the marvelous seaweed which was always fresh and green and as everlasting as the love of the two faithful youths.
At last the work was finished, the last link was knotted when unexpected and victorious the young man came home. Then the girl, her heart filled with joy and pride, unfolded her fishing-net before all the people who had run out to rejoice for his happy return. Oh! Wonder! Woven into the net, clear and white was the beautiful seaweed alike in every line and fiber to the one the young man had gathered for her in the deep. That seaweed, which flourished through a prodigy of love in the web of fishing net, has given birth to the exquisite Venetian lace.
This traditional handicraft has been allowed to die out in many parts of Italy, but has been kept alive in Orvieto by the ARS WETANA a Patronato di Beneficenza or charitable group. In 1907 the local aristocracy decided to help the women of Orvieto make ends meet with the beautiful laces they were capable of producing. The Patronato is still in action today and Ars Wetana maintains a shop a few steps from Orvieto’s Duomo, whose magnificent facade has inspired many of the local lace designs.
Behind the shop is a workshop where the final pieces are joined together by experts and last touches are made before delivery to the client. The shop is a non-profit clearing house for orders that come from retailers and private clients all over Italy and abroad.
Workshops in embroidery in Ars Wetana are offered in the nearby town of Bolsena at the Bolsena embroidery school
It is a pity that Italian manufacturers of synthetic fibers don’t look into the possibilities of furnishing these artisans with a means of producing their laces for lingerie and other delicate clothing out of nylon or some other adaptable synthetic thread. They would surely find a new market for their products.
The artisans themselves confirm this. The cost of fine cotton for lace has increased considerably. Shops would also profit by this since the finely embroidered laces and silk lingerie is facing stiff competition for more practical nylon articles on sale. This would be an excellent solution for clients.