Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Lefkara Lace, Revisited


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Last summer, I had the pleasure of spending some time looking into Lefkara lace, which is a cutwork, drawn thread, and hand embroidered lace originating from Cyprus. You’ll find three previous articles here on Needle ‘n Thread about Lefkara lace: Lefkara Lace from Cyprus, More Lefkara Lace and Resources, and Lefkara Lace Up Close, if you’re interested in reading a little bit about it.

Lefkara Lace

I intended to revisit Lefkara lace during the year, but haven’t had the opportunity to. I did manage a book or two on the subject, but I’ve yet to try the techniques out. I’ve also managed to “accidentally” purchase some vintage “Lefkara-style” linens – I doubt they’re from the original town in Cyprus, and in fact, they are certainly not as well made or beautiful as the linens seen in the various photos in the articles mentioned above, or shown in the videos on Lefkara lace.

Yesterday, I was pleased to see an excellent article on The Textile Blog, titled “The Future Opportunities of Hand Production.” Definitely worth reading!

John highlighted this video hosted on Vimeo, about Lefkara lace and the future of the hand-made lace industry in Lefkara. I thought you would enjoy seeing the video, too:

Lacemaking in Lefkara, Cyprus from Etsy on Vimeo.

I dream of going to places like Cyprus and learning first hand from wizened ladies who know so well their craft!

If you have a moment, jump over to the Textile Blog and read John Hopper’s article – it’s a thought-provoking article.

Finally, feel free to share your thoughts on the subject of the future of hand-made below. It could generate an interesting discussion!!

Enjoy your Saturday!


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(26) Comments

  1. Wonderful video – I love things like this – but so sad – it really brings to mind how precious classes like yours are in the schools so that young people can have the opportunity to learn – oddly when shopping with my daughter recently she pointed out some shirts that were hand-embroidered (rather sloppily I thought) in the US. She told me that these are the super designer thing and very expensive. Interesting that we made shirts just like that back in the late 60’s because that’s what hippie girls did back then :-). Perhaps the future of embroidery will be in it role for personal pleasure rather than as a financial enterprise. After all, stores like Michael’s and Jo-Ann’s do a good trade in supplies and it seems that no matter where you go there’s always a store or two. I have to believe there’s a future for this somewhere because, sadly, that same daughter who admired the shirts never did have the patience or inclination to let me teach her.

  2. When I travel, I am finding that handmade means different things to others than to me. We were in Croatia last summer and I was looking for embroidered products. In the street vendors, I was approached and as I was looking at them I flipped them over and they were obviously machine done. We did run into a lady doing crochet work in one of the plazas and it was obvious that she did her own work. She was amazing. At a local museum, Museum of International Folk Art, they have a current display of Folk Art (which always includes textiles) of the Andes. The majority of the display is the 19th and 20th century work. It includes embroidered work which they said is all done on machines now. Sigh. To me it would be hand done, but I guess that is not how people think of it. Certainly anything hand done is very expensive that I find. Definitely it is worth what they ask.

  3. Thank you, Mary, for the article on lace and lacemakers. I am a huge fan of lace, and dabble in lacemaking occasionally. I own a huge collection of antique lace collars (400+) that are looking for a museum to call home. I did not even know about this type of lace – what a pleasure to learn about it and see all the information, thanks to you! Have a great holiday weekend.

  4. I’m old fashioned and nerdy, I know it and I embrace it! I appreciate hand made things. It seems to me like people could be defined in these two categories: those who treasure hand made things and those who see hand made items with an attitude of “what, you didn’t have the money to buy a brand name one”? I feel the same about books. I collect them and clean them adn love them, I want to smell their oldness and turn real pages. I think e-books and electronic readers have their place but it’s real books and home-y hand made for me!

  5. I also love old fashioned hand made things, especially linens, and I’m so sorry to see all the machine made item replacing the hand made ones. The video was very interesting and makes me want to go to Greece and see these ladies for myself, and maybe learn something!

  6. This past Fall I was working on honest to goodness hand embroidered napkins for my mom. They were white on white with a mushroom color accent. I was extremely pleased with the result even though I had just discovered hand embroidery that past summer. Anyhoo…I was working on them in front a family member who told me that she has a an embroidery machine and I could use that instead. With my internal fathers ruffled I kindly refused explaining that I actually enjoyed doing embroidery by my own hand. She couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t want to use a machine. “Because it’s cheating” I wanted to say. Some people just don’t get it. This is how the craftsman movement started. Mass production of furniture was overtaking the industry that the art of the piece was being lost. The craftsman revolted. The needle in hand, the gentle tug needed at the end of the stitch, a snip of the scissors. As long as I have my vision and use of my hands I shall forever chose to do my own work. LONG LIVE THE HAND EMBROIDERER! Hope I didn’t offend anyone.

  7. Hi Mary,

    When I was serving in the British Military during the mid 70s I was stationed for a while on Cyprus. Whilst there I bought a beautiful hand made Lefkara Lace round and scallop edged tablecloth which I intended to become a family heirloom. Fortunately my daughter loves it as much as I do so she will indeed have it – but just not quite yet! Would you believe that my husband also bought one for me for our 1st wedding anniversary (29 years ago) not realising that we already had one; to him the look of the ‘lace’ is very different and the one he bought is rectangular. So, not one but two heirlooms! I don’t want to go back to Cyprus now though, it has changed too much. Far too commercialised.

    By the way, a friend of mine makes hand made Brussels lace. It’s fascinating to watch her at work and the finished articles are just beautiful

  8. Last night the series “Larkrise to Candleford” on PBS had a story line about a woman who was having trouble finding buyers for her bobbin lace because people were turning to less expensive machine made lace. The story was poignant, and made me think of all of the precious skills that have been lost over the years because people don’t want to take the time or spend the money on hand made items. But as I was watching, I was working on my current embroidery project. Thank you, Mary, for helping keep the love of hand stitching alive.

  9. Thanks for sharing this video. I know from my own experience that the women are right. People who do not share our passion for home-made things just want a quick gift and cheaper is fine with them. Ironically, I learned to sew because my family could not afford to buy what was at the store, not because we thought our skills were better or patterns superior. The ancient patterns and traditional lace are truly rare in today’s world and by those of us who buy, create and use these skills their tradition is being carried on.

    Here is another thought:

    What I am discovering is that people do not have an appreciation for the time and energy that goes into each piece until we compare our skilled labor to that of a mechanic or a plumber. Since “women’s work” was considered something everyone did, it had little value, but now that few people sew and embroider even by machine, people are appreciative of those who offer their services to the community and they will pay for what they need or want. What I am discovering is that I need to sew and embroider what they want, instead of what I want to create. It is this change in the market economy over time that I see the biggest challenge to these elderly women and even among our own communities in many ways.

    For example: I love to create quilts and fine needlework, but if people need me to hand pick a broken zipper or create an appliqued banner, I can use my skills to create what will fit their needs instead of tell them I only use my skills to create tea towels, quilts and doilies. Afterall, our frontier foremothers used there skills to sew all of these things. Many embroiderers choose to stick to one thing, but I am discovering the joy of accepting the diversity of what can be and needs to be sewn. Many of our embroidery stitches were originally used to mend fish nets,and put in button holes, but now we rarely use these skills to do what they were intended and wonder why the people do not understand how important these skills are. It is up to us to make our skills important in our local communities or we will have no value or need to stay.

  10. Mary, thanks for leading us to this great video and article about handwork in Cyprus. It is sad that future generations will not appreciate this art. When my Mother was a girl in the early 20th century handwork was a necessity of everyday life. Somehow I had the sense to keep some of her beautiful embroidery work. It is priceless.

  11. I wish the one book on Lefkara lace that seems to exist was more widely available! I’ll probably never have the opportunity to visit Lefkara in person, so I guess the $90 (!) book a couple of sellers have on Amazon is cheaper than a plane ticket.

  12. I have been privileged to be in the company of both “professional craft makers” and the “army of amateurs” most of my life, so the points raised in John’s article have often been debated around our dinner table. It seems that the “casualness of bulk production” is a 21st-century modus operandi, whether we’re referring to lace tablecloths or the plethora of talent competitions on TV and YouTube (where everybody has talent!). The “casual indifference” that results from that bulk production produces despair in many craftspeople (“Why am I killing myself to do this craft when a machine can spit out a replica in a couple of hours for a tenth of the price?”) and on the flip side, a yearning for a reconnection to the things we value (what we eat, wear, surround ourselves with). I used to do arts and crafts shows, and our favorite time of the day was when all the consumers were gone and we could barter paintings for baskets, sculptures for handmade furniture–no money involved at all. THAT was fun! I still have pottery, baskets, and paintings that I bartered for–all one-of-a-kind pieces–that will be passed down to my children and grandchildren. One of the best features of shops like Etsy is that craftspeople can produce JUST ONE PIECE…ONE OF A KIND. Those types of venues give craftspeople (both pros and those in the amateur realm) a space where their work can be re-ensouled–and that is a step in the right direction in terms of valuing the uniqueness of traditional (and modern) crafts and those who make them. A big thank-you to John for stirring up the pot–and to Mary for sharing.

  13. I was struck by how much the Lefkara lace looks like the Norwegian Hardanger needlework. Lefkara lace is beautiful and I enjoyed the video. Now I will be reading more on both Lefkara and Hardanger needlework to see how they might be related.

  14. I have a friend who is a magnificent goldwork embroidery artist. (Her work is sold in art galleries.) But actually, not much is sold because she charges for her time – not a lot, not much more than minimum wage – but that means that they’re expensive. And no one seems to want to pay a living wage to an artist. It’s so sad.

    She did one piece that I would have given my eye teeth and several back molars for! It was about 2 feet wide and 4 feet high, done on a fine stainless steel mesh. It was double sided. On one side, in gold, was a sailboat, in full sail, tacking into the wind. The other side was a mirror image but done in silver. It just took my breath away. The trouble was that I had nowhere to display it. I have a terrible memory for figures, but I think she was asking about C$5,000 for it and it did sell because it was so spectacular.

  15. First @Teri about Hardanger – this kind of pulled and drawn work originated in Egypt in the 12th-13th century – from there is spread through Sicily and Italy and into Europe – “Hardanger” is the name of the Scandanavian village that popularized it much much later. So you see there is nothing new under the sun after all – and what is good and beautiful finds a way to endure no matter what changes the world goes through.

    @Margot – yes its terribly sad that hand made things don’t seem to carry the weight they used to when machines can make replicas so easily – as a professional artist who lives with someone who is also a professional artist we constantly deal with this kind of mentality. Fortunately there are still those who know and value the idea that an object is one-of-a-kind – who recognize our work and treasure it. So far we have kept the wolf away from the door. And I know that my daughter – although she does not do embroidery or crafts herself – treasures my artwork and is teaching her child to respect real art as well. And who knows how the consciousness of the world may turn….

  16. Well of course the lace is exquisite. To me, there is a place for both the machine made and the hand made. I see the machine made for something to be used for every day, and replaced often, and the handmade for special occasions, for display, for true appreciation. Just the idea that a human being could take materials and fashion them into something so beautiful is priceless to my way of thinking. It’s the difference between an original work of art and a mass produced copy. Both have something to offer, but there is really no substitute for the genius of the original.
    At any rate, thank you for the opportunity to learn more about this lace and the people who care about handmade items.

  17. When I was a glassblower, we had a similar problem. So along with the bread and butter items like Christmas ornaments and paperweights, all affordable by the general public, we tried to develop hand blown glass as art. But only the well to do can pay for glass art. Then there is the Honiton lace I saw in Honiton last year. Ten hours to make one square inch of lace. How many hours to make a lace collar? Even at minimum wage, who is going to pay the price of it? So needle workers are left to carry on the many traditions as a pastime. Or if we wish to sell our work, we either have to turn it into art or take far less than the hours and skill level we put into a piece than it truly warrants. I embroider because I can no longer blow glass. I need to make beautiful things. Perhaps the future of needlework lies in the hands of people like me who must make beautiful things just for their own sake.

  18. After a long time I wright to you although I’ve been reading your e-mails daily since June 2010.
    I’m very proud for Cyprus as we are all greeks.
    I’m a Greek woman being in love with embroidery-lace for over 15 years. I bought the book for Lefkara lace (by Androula Hatzigiasemi) recently. I hope that I’ll manage to read and practice with this “witty” lace which has been appreciated even from Leonardo da Vinci.
    Have a nice day.
    Ζήνια Κ.

  19. This looks so much like hardanger. I think I read somewhere that the Vikings brought women who were proficient at this type of embroidery back to Norway as “prizes”. Thus a connection. While it’s a sad connection, I’m glad that it exists because I love working hardanger. It’s a beautiful and challenging form of needlework. If you want to learn, there’s plenty of assistance available at the Nordic Needle (great store and a reason to visit Fargo, ND).

  20. Hi Mary, this is a very vexed and vexing question for us all. Both my husband and I hand made art; his medium is wood, mine textiles. Later this year we will each have a solo exhibition at a local gallery. The problem of pricing is now raising its ugly head, and it seems that most artists (and craftspeople) working in such fields do not get paid a realistic amount for their work and certainly do not get a ‘living wage’. For example, a piece of work which I have spent between 15 and 20 hours embroidering will sell at $300; that price includes the materials that I used plus the framing (which fortunately for us, my husband does). Even so I will be very lucky indeed if I sell anything, although enough to cover the costs of the exhibition would be nice!

    Machine making is quick, therefore labour costs are low, making the end price more attractive. Also most people seem to prefer the ‘perfection’ of machine made, rather than the slightly less than perfect of hand-made. (Why, I don’t know.)

    I agree with the respondent above who said that we will have to make embroidery/lace etc for its own sake and not for money. I for one can’t possibly hope to compete with a machine, nor do I want to. I won’t even use the embroidery function of my whizz-bang computerised sewing machine.

  21. It makes me extremely sad to see these arts die because they can be produced for cheap in China. It makes me very mad too. I will be 63 next week and grew up always working in some needle art, sewing, knitting, quilting, rug hooking, crewel embroidery. etc.
    Speaking of lace making in particular, hubby and I went to Winterthur to see the “Plimoth Jacket/Waistcoat” this past weekend. The jacket (should be called textile art) is sooooo beautiful. I just keep walking around it and was totally amazed at the work. The handmade lace was gorgeous to say the least.
    I do hope we can keep these arts alive!!!!

  22. Dear Mary,
    Ζήνια Κ.


    1. Hi, Ζήνια & LacySusan –

      Thanks very much for the extra resources! It’s a difficult book to find, but now we have two sources for it, thanks to you and Margot, as well as a library source, thanks to LacySusan!

      Monique – good idea, but I think the book is still in print, apparently, since it is actually available new through at least two resources – the one in Germany posted above at the end of the article (I updated it after publishing this morning) and one in Cyprus (the e-mail contact is in Ζήνια Κ’s comment. It’s good to know it’s still available, though a little harder to come by than many books!


  23. My mom was from Lefkara Cyprus and enbroided with her mother and sister in order to survive. It was a way of life for them. I am fortunate to have many of the table cloths and doilies that she has made throughout her lifetime. I have framed and hung them in my home as they are works of art. Many hours of eye straining stitched went into creating the various style of stitches. My mom tried to teach me, but unfortunately I did not have the patients that was inbedded into her being. It would be a token to the artisans to continue educating those who may be interested in the art, just as quilting was as well as so many other textiles. It truely is a remarkable art that should never be forgotten.

    1. My Grandmother made and sold this lace in Cyprus. I have quite a few of her pieces. I had no idea till this year what a unique skill this was. I will take good care of my lace.

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