The Italian term for lace, “merletti”, comes from the word “merli”, meaning merlons, or the upright sections of battlements and crenellated parapets in Medieval palaces and towers. Sicily, where Baroque architecture reached its apogee, has a very ancient lacemaking tradition, documented as early as 1403 in an inventory owned by the La Grua family, with mentioned 14th century “reticelli” or “radizelli”, sometimes made with gold or silver threads, used to adorn textiles.
Sicilian lacemaking traditions are typified by the frequent lack of preparatory cartons, with free-hand weaving resulting in a harmonious succession of filled and empty spaces that reflected exclusively the personal imagination of its maker.
One of the towns in which lacemaking was particularly well developed, and which to this day provides some of the best examples of artisanal lace is Mirabella Imbaccari, in the province Catania. In the 1910s, a wealthy and pious local woman, Angelina Auteri, invested part of her extensive family patrimony to create a special workshop in the aristocratic Palazzo Biscari, owned by her husband, where local women could learn the art of bobbin lace under the guidance of nuns from the Order of Saint Dorothy, who were sent over from Rome expressly for this purpose.
Piana degli Albanesi, in Palermo province, has an ancient and well-rooted tradition of bobbin tape lace, once made with gold threads and known as “kurore”, used to decorate traditional folk costumes.
Also renowned are the seamstresses and lacemakers from Santa Ninfa, in Trapani province. Having to make bridal dowries for themselves, their daughters, or for wealthy local families, they quickly learned the art of lace, which they used to adorn all sorts of linens and garments.