Lacemaking traditions in Molise, especially in Isernia, date back in all likelihood to the Middle Ages, and are tied to the presence of numerous Benedictine convents where nuns were taught the art of lace.
Although quite appreciated locally, the work of Molise’s lacemakers never achieved fame beyond the region’s boundaries.
The commonest techniques were needle lace, particularly punto in aria, and bobbin lace, which was probably introduced to the region by cooks from the town of Agnone who moved to Venice to work for the Doges.
To this day, lacemaking in Molise takes place using the same ancient equipment: the pillow (ru pallone in the local dialect), which rests on a small wooden chest during the lacemaking process; the carton onto which the design is printed, and which is pinned onto the pillow; and between ten and one hundred bobbins (ri tummarielli) around which the thread is wound and which move in a precise order to replicate the design, producing the characteristic tinkling that serves as a soundtrack to the rapid and skilful hand movements of the lacemakers.
The weaving, which is held into place by steel pins as it takes shape thanks to the lacemakers’ agile hands, is then used to adorn clothes and garments.
The very high quality of the threads used to make lace in the past is still reflected in the yarn currently used in textile production: renowned local brands include “Ancora” (nn. 70-80), and “DMC” or the thread for Cantù bobbin lace sold under the brand names “CCC” and “Tre Cerchi oro” (nn. 30-40)?
Over the centuries, the types and destinations of lacework changed profoundly: from 18th century lace with simple, recurring patterns, in ribbons only a few centimetres high, production shifted to much more varied styles in thicker ribbons, which are no longer used solely for adorning necklines, headgear, and handkerchiefs, but also as decorations for draperies, tablecloths, paintings, lampshades, and more.
Isernia’s Museum of Memory and History, inaugurated in 2011, dedicated one of its rooms to this intensive, long-standing tradition, which showcases an artisanal craft whose revival is currently being pursued.