The first historical evidence of bobbin lace in Tuscany comes from a document describing some of the details in the clothes worn by guests at the wedding between Giustina Borromeo and the Marquis Stanga in 1493. In the 16th century, Caterina de' Medici enjoyed embroidery and lacework, and up until the early 20th century, bobbin lace was known in Tuscany as merletti alla Medici. Lace played a key role in the region’s folk costumes, and indeed became a tradition that was passed on from mother to daughter. Women from the countryside near Florence made very simple types of lace to adorn white shirts and dresses worn during celebrations.
In Sansepolcro, lace was made using a type of pillow different from traditional ones. They were flat and rounded (as opposed to the cylindrical shape typical of most Italian regions), and were supported by a tripod that made it possible to move them 360 degrees depending on the design for the lacework. Lace was traditionally made with linen thread of varying thickness, but other types of threads were also used. Designs were mostly plants and animals.
The lacework tradition in Sansepolcro dates back to the Middle Ages, but it peaked, quality-wise, in the early 20th century, thanks to the work of the Marcelli sisters, who created a particular type of bobbin lace inspired by Italian, French, and Flemish models, and locally known as trina a spilli. The Marcelli opened a school/workshop that trained over 100 lacemakers; more lacemakers worked from home throughout the upper Tiber valley area. The quality of Sansepolcro lace was further improved by a skilled draughtsman, Domenico Petri. Two catalogues of his sketches are still extant, as are a number of loose-leaf drawings. Between 1920 and 1948, he was responsible for most lace designs, and played a key role in the emergence of the local style, known as punto Sansepolcro. Designs were typified by certain features (vases, locks of hair, puppets, forests, dormers), which were constantly present in local lacework. The Sansepolcro school fell upon hard times after the two World Wars and the subsequent economic crisis. Interest in lace was revived by local cultural associations, and especially by the International Biennial of Lace held in Sansepolcro, an event that played a key role in the ‘revival of lace’ in Italy and Europe.
According to documents from the time, a flourishing bobbin lace industry existed in Anghiari during the first few decades of the 20th century. Once again, the lace is worked on flattened bobbins, locally known as pagnotte, onto which the spindles rest.