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Threads of tradition.

The Leventis Municipal Museum of Nicosia is, without a doubt, one of the island's best kept secrets. Tucked away in Laiki Yitonia, just off Ledra Street, a visit to this incredible space feels almost like entering Narnia (and not just because you're suddenly out of the debilitating heat and into the delicious cool of a fresh winter's morning!)… Pass through the faded blue double doors in an inconsequential side street, and you're in a land of pure magic: history, tradition and culture all laid out in a space that seems to expand the further you explore. Beautifully presented and easy to follow, the exhibits are extremely well thought-out and researched; in fact it's the perfect stop-off for anyone enamoured of our island's past. And while the permanent displays are always worth a visit, it's the temporary exhibit, entitled Threads of Tradition, which has been fascinating the crowds this summer…

Running until October 31, Threads of Tradition takes a detailed look at the history of one of the island's best-known industries: lace and lace embroidery. From the origins of the craft to the people who continue the tradition into the present day, the exhibition offers "an opportunity to experience and to learn on the subject of Cypriot lace and lace embroidery: invaluable elements of our intangible cultural heritage", and includes everything from Veniz lace, to Lefkara lace embroidery, kopaneli, bibilla lace, frivolite lace and crochet lace from Lapithos, Kilani, and Omodhos, as well as details of the overseas trade and traders who put this local product on the global map.

"Cyprus has a very rich tradition of embroidery and lace, right back to mediaeval times," explains curator Demetra Papanikola-Bakirtzi. "And in that the museum already had a large collection of both, coupled with our extensive research into this aspect of our cultural heritage, we decided it was high time to mount an exhibition showcasing the threads that were woven into our island's past."

The exhibition, she explains, differentiates not by place (while Lefkara lace and embroidery is by far the most well-known, many other villages in Cyprus were equally important in this trade) but by technique. "All of us can conjure up a mental picture of our grandmothers sitting in the courtyard making lace, but they may actually have been embroidering…" While both techniques are extremely delicate, lace making relies on a system of thread and bobbins, while embroidery involved the removal of threads from a piece of material and the consequent use of a needle to bind together specific fibres.

Thus much of the earliest pieces -- which are either geometric in character, or embroidered panels depicting human figures, animals and birds -- inspired by Venetian tradition, are the result of fine needlework over stretched thread, defining outline, shape and design to create inserts, panels and decorative collars. "The oldest piece of lace in our collection dates from the 19th century," Demetra continues. "You must remember that this is a very delicate craft and the results were used, washed and worn… We consider ourselves very lucky to be able to display such a large selection of pieces."

Lefkara lace and embroidery, bibilla (a type of fine knotted lace often used to edge bed covers, tablecloths and nightgowns), crochet and bobbin lace are just a few of the exhibits in Threads of Tradition, along with a fascinating section on the lace trade of the early to mid-twentieth century. Staggeringly detailed tablecloths, exquisitely edged silk underwear, miniscule inserts and meticulously crafted doilies are displayed in cases and cabinets around the exhibition room, alongside associated paraphernalia (including lace-making cushions and bobbins -- the more traditional made of bone) and many of the virgin fabrics used to create both lace and embroidery. Outsize photos on the walls depict black-clad women bent over their work, and moustachioed young traders purveying their local wares as far abroad as England, France and Sweden. And, as a fitting close to the exhibition, a contemporary art installation portrays a shadow sculpture: a silhouette of an elderly lady bent over her craft.

A magical journey through one of the finest of local traditions, Threads of Tradition should definitely be on your to-do list should you find yourself in the capital.

Threads of Tradition: Lace and Lace Embroideries of Cyprus

Until October 31 at the Leventis Municipal Museum of Nicosia. Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 4.30pm. For more information visit, or Tel: 22 661475

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Publication:Cyprus Mail (Cyprus)
Date:Sep 13, 2016
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