During the Byzantine period, the art of weaving costly textiles for the European market, mainly for ecclesiastical use, was centered in Constantinople, but after the Crusades, when Cyprus became the only secular Latin stronghold in the eastern Mediterranean and a prosperous commercial centre, the tradition of making valuable textiles and embroideries became concentrated here.
It is, however, the period of the Venetian occupation (1489-1571) which produced “Lefkaritika”, a form of needlework which has survived and flourished in almost its original form to present day. This type of drawn and counted thread embroidery, famous all over the world, is made by the women of the village of Lefkara in the province of Larnaca in the south of the island. This village, high in the mountains, was the principal summer resort of wealthy Venetians and the local women would have come into close daily contact with their household linen. With their keen minds, sharp eyes and deft fingers, soon copied and adapted the old Italian white needlework containing the cut-work, drawn thread-work and reticella fillings common in Italy, particularly in Venice, during the 16th century. The local name of cut-work in the Lefkara embroidery is “tayiadha”, derived from the Italian “punto-tagliato”. The Lefkara women created beautiful bodices, dresses and cloaks, not only in linen but also in silk.
It is even reputed that Leonardo da Vinci, on a visit to Cyprus, was very impressed by the Lefkara women’s adaptation of Venetian embroidery. He is said to have taken a piece of work with the “potamos” design on it back to Italy to grace the altar in Milan Cathedral. This design is known today as the “Leonardo da Vinci design”.
Since that time the men of the village have traveled extensively throughout Greece, Europe and even America selling the work. Their wives, meanwhile, were left at home to embroider and to look after the family. Now, modern communication makes the men’s lives much easier, they no longer have to travel the world to sell their wares. Furthermore, tourism has created an obvious outlet for selling Lefkara lace.
Photo left: In 1953 seven Lefkara women worked to complete a Leonardo da Vinci design, offered as a gift to the Queen of England for her coronation. An embroyed crown can be seen in the centre. The young lady in the center is Evdokia, 62 today, one of the best lace craft-women that can be found at Lefkara nowadays.(Inset photo)
Lace-making is a tradition for Cyprus and the village of Lefkara. The technique is carried-out from generation to generation. Pictured on the right is the daughter of Andri, the owner of D & A Lefkara Handicraft Centre, learning the technique from her grandmother.