The emergence of lacemaking in the Idrija region is closely connected to mining. The women made lace while the men worked in the mercury mine. Later on, lace was used as a cover for mercury smugglers.
An interesting story, told by Mirjam Gnezda Bogataj, the director of the Idrija Municipal Museum, is of Marina Melhiorca, a tiny old woman who was in charge of a smuggling organisation. She was caught and imprisoned in the castle dungeon, but the cunning old lady managed to escape.
Lacemaking in Idrija began to flourish in the second half of the 19th century. It became known worldwide thanks to the merchant Franc Lapajne. In 1876 a lacemaking school was opened in Idrija. Lacemaking then slowly began to spread towards the Gorenjska and Primorska regions.
This tablecloth for Jovanka Broz, made by Idrija’s 20 most skilled lacemakers, is one of the biggest protocol gifts made of lace. Today it is displayed in the permanent exhibition of Idrija lace at the Idrija Municipal Museum (photo: Tomaž Lauko, Fototeka MMI)
To this day the Idrija Lacemaking School holds the reputation of being one of the finest. It also has the most pupils. According to Metka Fortuna, the headteacher of the lacemaking school, the pupils acquire the traditional, necessary skills for making Idrija lace. “The children work and create with their hands, develop a sense of precision, perserverence, patience, and aesthetics. They can see their progress with their own eyes”.
It is wonderful to see children make these works of art with their tiny hands. The youngest lacemakers are only six years old. Their love of lacemaking has been passed on to them by their grandmothers. Ella says she likes lacemaking, and it is a tradition in Idrija. Šana was making lace even before she started school. During our visit, eleven-year-old Maruša was preparing for a lacemaking competition. She was practising making table lace.
Some of these girls are true lacemaking and pattern-drawing masters.