Sonia Brunalti is one the leading historians on Italian Crochet. She did a wonderful interview with a fellow crocheter Veruska Sabucco and here’s what we learned about Italian crochet and the its most popular form; Italian Lace.

She gave us some overall background information about Italian crochet lace. In Italy, Irish crochet lace arrived in the early 20th century, at a time when the local aristocracy needed a way to increase its dwindling resources. It took hold because many women had expert needlecraft skills. Irish lace, born to imitate Venetian needle lace, became both a popular artistic handicraft and a flourishing business enabling women to promote and earn money through their work. To meet the growing worldwide demand for Irish lace, lace-making was organized in an assembly-line manner, with each worker doing a specialized job.

But it wasn’t the Irish lace we learned about in Ireland nor that of the Spanish lace from last week. For example, the Umbria region was fertile ground for Irish crochet. There was an ancient tradition of weaving, embroidery and lace, for example Ars Panicalensis. In 1904, marchioness Elena Guglielmi brought several crochet lace teachers from Ireland to the Isola Maggiore, an island on the Trasimeno lake. They were to teach Irish crochet lace to local fishermens daughters, and the technique was given the name punto Irlanda (Irish stitch). The school was so successful that more and more pupils came. Women produced exquisite and extremely delicate lace with thin metal hooks working from designs created by well-known artists. A renowned teacher of the art was Elvira Tosetti-De Sanctis, schoolmaster until after World War II. Her name can be found on every popular book about this subject. After the war the school ceased operation.

Particularly in the town of Orvieto, Irish crochet took on a life of its own, developing a deep bond with local artistic treasures and iconography. In 1907, a group of noblemen created a patronage called Ars Wetana again with the intent of allowing townsfolk the means to sustain themselves by women’s work. Ars Wetana is one of the names by which Orvieto Irish lace is still called. Ars Wetana crochet uses a thread much thinner than that used in Irish crochet lace: when it was still available, thread of 250 were used, versus the 100 thickness of today that, to the expert, is considered coarse. Small iron bars were heated and applied on the wrong side of motifs to create a three-dimensional effect.

What I want you to understand in the midst of all this is that Italy is not country yet.The formation of the modern Italian state began in 1861 with the unification of most of the peninsula under the House of Savoy (Piedmont-Sardinia) into the Kingdom of Italy. Italy incorporated Venetia and the former Papal States (including Rome) by 1871 following the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). Prior to Italian unification (also known as the Risorgimento), the United States had diplomatic relations with the main entities of the Italian peninsula: the Kingdom of Sardinia, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and the Papal States. With the exception of the World War II years when Benito Mussolini’s government declared war upon the United States (1941-43), the United States has had warm relations with the Kingdom of Italy and, after 1946, its successor, the Republic of Italy. But it’s actual fully incorporated founding date is June 2, 1946. Before this Italy was a combination of city states that had been that way since before the Roman Republic. What does this have to do with crochet? Well it has to do with supply and demand, and with culture.

The Orvieto school is in the middle of the peninsula and that’s a very religious group at this time because Rome is there. The school used the same techniques as had been employed in Irish crochet: a basic pattern for the shape of the finished piece on which motifs were then basted, then connected with a trellis, or background net, using threads of different thickness for the net and for motifs. Motifs were worked around padding cord to create volume and movement. But Orvieto crochet departed from the Irish style significantly by using newly imagined designs for motifs, and different types of filler patterns. The typical picot net disappeared. The net was no longer regular, but became irregular, almost improvised, to the effect that motifs, worked with extreme precision, were greatly enhanced. On this new irregular net, along with motifs, small rings appeared, called acinini, used to fill the empty spaces between motifs. Groups of small nebula-like hexagons often filled the center of tablecloths and doilies. From this central point of interest, the real motifs spread. The Umbria school found inspiration in Orvietoâ’s famous Duomo (cathedral) reliefs, producing classic motifs inspired by the the Biblical Eve as she was depicted on the front of the Duomo, deers, and mythological birds and gryphons. Crocheted lace reproduces all those creatures in an extremely realistic way, with raised crocheted feathers almost detached from the background. The motifs were surrounded by fluid branching plants, these in turn adorned with delicate ribbing. Overall, this was a true artistic and narrative language.

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