A number of archaeological finds have shown just how far back weaving and yarn making go in Campania: one need only think of the bobbins, spindles, and stone discs found at the Church of Santa Restituta in Ischia, all dating back to the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C.
The historical continuity of artisanal textile-making, whether embroideries or lace, is documented by Cesare Vecellio in his book “Habiti antichi e moderni in tutto il mondo” (1589), which describes the traditional costumes of Campania’s women, and in particular the exquisite lace decorations that adorned the entire length of these costumes’ long sleeves.
Each home had its own loom, and weaving was just as much a part of a woman’s daily routine as farmwork and homemaking.
Religious institutes played a key role in the dissemination of lace. Here, experienced nuns taught young novices, most of whom had bourgeois roots, the art of embroidering and lacemaking, so that the young women could embellish their own bridal dowries.
Montefusco, in Avellino province, is one of the towns were lacemaking continues to this day. Some particularly representative items are on displays in the rooms of the former Bourbon Prison. The so-called “Bottega del Tombolo” displays a collection of lace items and their preparatory cartons dating back to 1918-1924, and testifying to a local preference for bobbin lace.
The bobbin lace tradition also remained deeply rooted in San Paolina, again in Avellino province, where the local style known as foglia d’uva is still manufactured today. This is one of the most complicated types of lace to make of all, as it requires as many as 238 bobbins (locally known as tummarielli).
Many other towns have played a role in the history and tradition of lace in Campania. Nevertheless, the evidence to be found in ancient texts and documents is rather scattered and sporadic, so that further study is needed in order to trace a more comprehensive history of a tradition that appears to have deep roots, at least at the local level.
Starting in the 13th century, the ancient Norman castle of Montefusco housed a prison that for centuries served as the dreaded backdrop for the torture and imprisonment of patriots, liberal, and brigands, earning it the reputation of Irpinia’s answer to Spielberg.
It was declared a national monument in 1928. Several rooms in the upper concourse house an ethnic and anthropological museum displaying a rich collection of bobbin lace items, together with the equipment and tools used to manufacture them.