One of the most striking traditional art forms I saw while in Irpinia was that of “tombolo,” a form of lace making that requires special needles, a skilled eye and a lot of patience.
In the town of Santa Paolina, nicknamed “the town of tombolo,” the old tradition is alive and well– in fact, there’s even a type of school where the town’s elderly women teach the skill to anyone who would like to learn, ensuring that the centuries-old art form lives on.
Tombolo was born in Campania during the Middle Ages as a way to embellish a priest’s vestments for celebrating Mass, but it quickly spread to nobility wishing to show off their status. In Irpinia and in the area surrounding Salerno, tombolo work developed into an extremely detailed and delicate art form– variations of which were even brought to the United States by immigrants from the region, including by my great-grandmother! The name comes from the instrument used to create the delicate pieces of lace– here’s one as it is being created with the tombolo instruments from the website, Irpinia Focus:
Are you interested in learning more? I strongly suggest you reach out to Giuseppe Silvestri at Unpli Irpinia— his association is dedicated to preserving the artisan traditions of Irpinia (as well as other history and culture) and he will be happy to introduce you to a tombolo class next time you’re in Italy!
Until next time… a presto!