Isola Maggiore is located in the Umbria region in central Italy and is the second largest island — and the only inhabited one — on Lake Trasimeno, Italy’s largest lake. Traditional Irish lace making, also known as Irish crochet, was introduced to Isola Maggiore in the early 1900s and has now become an important part of their local economy, along with fishing, agriculture, and tourism.
Lace Making in Isola Maggiore, Umbria
The women of Isola Maggiore picked up this intricate lace craft easily because of their experience weaving and mending fishing nets, which also required extreme precision. The openwork Irish lace designs are made using a very thin steel crochet hook and fine cotton or linen thread. While once there were many, now only a few lace makers remain in Isola Maggiore. When touring the island, you can find them sitting on their doorsteps with their intricate needlework, crocheting gorgeous lace and displaying their goods for sale on folding chairs beside them.
A Virtual Tour of the island
Come with me for a virtual tour of this beautiful Italian island and get a closer look at the Irish lace making tradition.
For our tour guide we have my lovely sister-in-law, who recently visited the Umbria region and shot a bunch of gorgeous photos of Isola Maggiore and the amazing Irish lace work for which the island is known.
Before we get to the lace, here are some interesting facts about the island:
- St. Francis of Assisi retreated to the island for 40 days during lent in 1211, after which a Franciscan monastery was built on the island in 1328 to commemorate his retreat.
- The Guglielmi castle was built on the monastery in the 1880s.
- In 1944, the castle on the island was used as an internment camp for Jews and political prisoners who were sent there for protection, against orders of being sent to concentration camp. They were rowed to safety by the island’s fishermen, led by the island’s priest (Forces War Records UK).
- A monument was erected next to the Lace Museum to honor those fisherman (Wikipedia).
- There is only one completely paved road in the village, lined by houses of the 13th and 14th century (Umbria Tourism).
- According to Da Sauro, a hotel and restaurant on the island, only 18 residents remain on the island.
Museo del Merletto (The Lace Museum)
When on the island, you can also visit the Museo del Merletto (The Lace Museum) to learn about the rich history of Isola Maggiore’s Irish lace making tradition and to see some of the rare and exquisite work that remains. The museum is located at the historic palace of Podestà of Torcello, in Piazza Galuppi, Burano, seat of the famous Burano Lace School which ran from 1872 to 1970.
The lace pieces inside range from doilies to tablecloths, to handkerchiefs, and even wedding dresses! Aren’t those intricate flowers and designs amazing!!
Learn More About Lace
To learn more about the history of lacework and lace traditions dating back from the 16th century to the present, as well as reference a glossary of lace terminology and definitions, the museum has put together this 7-page download.