Sicilian Linen Towns

01 September 2010 Published in Sicily Itineraries

A few readers have written to us asking how and from where they can pick up old style tablecloths, bed linen and embroidered work in Sicily.

Our research has led us to the eastern side of the island and the towns of Sortino in the province of Siracusa, Vittoria in the province of Ragusa and Castiglione in the province of Catania.

The workmanship in this part of the island is known as 'sfilato siciliano'. It is a technique which first appeared in the 15th century and was essentially the embellishing of white linen cloths with colorful threads.

The women of the time would remove threads of the linen and replace them with colored embroidery.

It must have been an intricate job and, in fact, it did become simplified over the years and only certain decorative areas were eventually reworked.

Many of the old techniques have disappeared but the craft itself was kept alive in the islands convents and specialist 'bottegas'.

A variation which is alive and well is practised at Erice in the west of Sicily. It is called 'frazzata' and involves the use of a hand loom to replace threads with extremely colorful cotton.

The cotton is inserted to form bright, geometric patterns often inspired by floral and Middle Eastern designs. The popularity of the 'frazzata' is such that what was once a craft practised in the home is now a recognizable industry.

What is there to see at Erice, Sortino and Castiglione?

Erice - The famous Temple of Venus which was uncovered following excavations in the Norman castle; a relic from the time when the city was destroyed by the Carthaginians in 260 BC. The tortuous medieval town was called Monte S.Giuliano until 1934.

Sortino - The necropolis of Pantalica built into the chalk rocks.

Castiglione - The old fortifications which look towards the coast at Taormina and Mount Etna in the south. The nearest town of Linguaglossa takes its name from a large tongue of lava which arrived in the area in 1634 and is commemorated by a memorial stone in the town hall