Independence Earned On The Spider Web

Traditional lacemaking on the Pag island

By Croatian National Tourist Board

Pag beachCroatian National Tourist Board

Pag Island

Nowadays, Pag Island is mostly known for its barren, moonlike landscape and the lace production.

Pag islandCroatian National Tourist Board

In the town of Pag on the namesake island in Croatia, a centuries-old lacemaking tradition represents a distinct part of the country’s cultural and ethnographic heritage.

Pag islandCroatian National Tourist Board

It is part of a broader lacemaking tradition in Croatia that, along with lace from the northern Croatian town of Lepoglava and the island of Hvar was collectively added in 2009 to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Lace designCroatian National Tourist Board

What is Pag lace?

Pag lace is a painstakingly intricate needlepoint lace created with white thread. The lacemaker starts with a firm pillow, onto which a spider web pattern — the initial design of the piece of lace — is sewn. While there are no set patterns for the lace, there are rules for its design.

Lace in different shapesCroatian National Tourist Board

Each piece of lace begins with the spider web pattern and radiates out from there to its final dimensions. Within the spider web, tightly sewn geometric forms are added in concentric circles, so that the forms, whether they’re circles, triangles, zigzag lines or rosettes, are always identical in size and frequency within each “ring” of the lace.

White laceCroatian National Tourist Board

Because of the frequency, tininess and tightness of the needlework, once detached from the pillow base, the finished piece of lace is rigid, like it’s been starched.

Round laceCroatian National Tourist Board

Most pieces of lace are small and round — typically a doily shape. This is due both to the immense amount of time required to produce one piece and its very high cost. A small doily might cost the equivalent of hundreds of euro, while a larger tabletop décor piece could cost thousands of euro.

Museum of lace with nuns in the backgroundCroatian National Tourist Board

History of the Pag lace

The tradition of Pag lace is thought to have originated in the 1400s in the Benedictine Monastery of St. Margherita (Sveta Margarita in Croat) in Pag, where nuns created exquisitely detailed garments, table coverings and other ornamental textiles for use within the church.

Lace making on a templateCroatian National Tourist Board

As lacemaking skills proliferated, lace became a feature of traditional costumes and served as a source of income for women in the village and countryside.

The nuns also ran a school where local girls could be educated in Christian beliefs and learn to read, write and make lace.

Young woman making a lace pieceCroatian National Tourist Board

Monument dedicated to the lace makersCroatian National Tourist Board

International interest in Pag lace peaked in the early 1900s, when Archduchess Maria Josepha, mother of Emperor Charles I of Austria, visited Pag and placed an order from its lace school. Pag lace soon became a status item in noble and upper middle class homes in Europe. The lace school, which at one point had 200 students, flourished until the mid-20th century.

Monument of lace makersCroatian National Tourist Board

By that point, industrially produced lace and other textiles had eclipsed traditional lacemaking. Women were increasingly working outside the home and had less time for lacemaking. Likewise, interest in learning lacemaking waned as it was not a viable way to earn an income.

Pag lace on orange backgroundCroatian National Tourist Board

In the mid-2000s, a lacemaking school reopened in Pag, and public school students have the option of learning lacemaking as part of their curriculum. There is a lace gallery in the town, as well as a handful of shops selling authentic Pag lace.

Hands making lace by Damir FabijanicCroatian National Tourist Board

The St. Margherita Monastery has a significant historic collection of Pag lace, and offers exhibits, workshops and demonstrations. Still, the biggest threat to the tradition of Pag lacemaking is the advanced age of the majority of its practitioners.

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