Growing up in Australia, I remember seeing a lace cloth draped on the top of the (then bulky) televisions, or on display cabinets and shelves at most of the homes of fellow Cypriots that we visited, including my own!
I never thought much of this lace cloth – that looks like a doily – and most certainly did not understand its true value, until I was much older and visited Lefkara village (in mountainous Larnaca) to see the craft in action and find out more about the hand-embroidered lace linens known worldwide as ‘Lefkaritika’.
These are certainly no ordinary lace linens, so allow me to recount the history of Lefkara’s artistic and ancient craft!
The remarkable thing about Lefkaritika is that they have been made continually and (almost) exclusively in Lefkara village for hundreds of years. Adding a romantic and nostalgic element to the story is that the local women were taught the skill by the Venetian noblewomen for whom Lefkara village was a quaint summer retreat (1489-1570 AD). It is even said that that the great painter Leonardo Da Vinci bought a lace alter cloth in 1481 when visiting the village, which he donated to Milan Cathedral.
Once a flourishing trade for the villagers, less people make the linens nowadays, but the women of Lefkara have managed to keep passing this painstaking skill down from generation to generation and can be seen sitting outside their homes carrying on the tradition with pride and deftness. This sight has grown to be a major tourist attraction with programmes and investment (like the Lefkara Lace Handicraft Centre) helping to keep the craft alive for generations to come, and also encouraging males to learn the female-dominated craft.
You can buy the intricate tablecloths, curtains, placemats and dresser mats from shops in Lefkara and around the island, or you can commission an individual piece. One lace piece can take weeks or months to make, which makes them quite pricey as you are paying for a handmade piece of artwork that cannot be reproduced by machine and is not mass made.
Now, you may be thinking that perhaps this lace can be replicated in the same style and be called Lefkaritiko, but that is not the case; there are very strict and set criteria about what it takes to make a piece, and this has even been inscribed into the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, so do beware of imitations!
The lace pieces are made in only three colours – brown, beige or white, on Irish linen with French thread. Combining four basic elements: the hemstitch, cut work, satin stitch fillings and needlepoint edgings, there are just 10 designs, and the linens are made to be reversible.
There is even a piece of the lace entered into the Guinness World Records for being the largest in the world!
Even if you don’t wish to purchase a piece of the linen, it is well worth a trip to the village to watch the women at work in the cobbled lanes and learn more at the Lefkara Handicraft Centre. The architecture and mountain views are also a beautiful sight!