The tradition of embroidery in Lefkara goes centuries back and this type of embroidery is known all around the world as "Lefkaritiko". According to local tradition, its history begins in the years 1191 - 1571, when some of the noble ladies of the west taught the women of Lefkara the fine art of embroidery. According to the same source, in 1841, Leonardo Da Vinci visited Lefkara and took one of these embroideries for the Duomo in Milan. A similar embroidery was given as gift to the Duomo on 19 October 1986, for the celebration of its 600 years.
In the centuries that have passed, the women of Lefkara managed to evolve their skills in embroidery and give their creations a more local character via inspired designs.
The period between the late 19th and early 20th century is of particular importance to Lefkara, since it signifies the beginning of the financial growth of the town. The townsmen discovered that the embroideries that up to that point the women made only for the dowry of their daughters and for embellishing their homes could become an important source of profit. A handful of daring young men started travelling to foreign lands with nothing but a suitcase. A suitcase filled with the famous laces and the artful embroideries that the women of Lefkara designed with craft and skill for centuries. These young men, having the trade talent of the Greek Cypriot, their youth and a thirst for better opportunities in life, travelled first to Alexandria and then to Smyrna and to Constantinople, to the thriving Greek communities. Then, they visited the countries of central Europe.
The trade of embroidery gave a significant boost to the evolution of the craft. As the demand was rapidly growing, more and more women started engaging in the art of embroidery which now becomes an important source of money to the family. It also contributes to the financial independence of women who now have their own money. The women of Lefkara no longer need to work in other houses in order to financially help their family. Nor do they need to work in farms since the income they gain from their embroideries is more than satisfactory. Now, they can stay at home, work on their designs, prepare food and carry out their role as mothers and ladies of their house.
On the other hand, these daring young men who travelled in Europe without knowing anything but a few words in foreign languages and who faced the difficulties that travels of that time posed, not only managed to survive to these foreign lands but many of them also became wealthy. Staying abroad for years, they are affected by foreign culture and when they return to their homeland they bring with them not only industrial products but new ideas as well. Realizing the value of a proper education they send, and still do, their children to study in top schools abroad in order to complete their academic education.
Generally speaking, embroidery-traders became bearers of culture and positively affected the social life of the town for centuries.
So, it would be justified to say that the women of Lefkara, the embroidery-makers, and the men of Lefkara, the embroidery-traders, are the two main factors who, with artistic competence and skill in trading respectively, elevated the "lefkaritiko" embroidery to a status of an international patent.
Surely, the trading of embroidery had negative aspects as well. It gave the people of Lefkara the opportunity to see life abroad and it cannot be considered unrelated to the mass immigration that took place in the periods 1920-30 and1946-60.
The "lefkaritiko" embroidery is believed to have reached, as work of art, its peak of perfection in the 1920-1930s when, according to specialists, it could have been listed among the best handiworks of the world. And this is not an unjustified distinction since, from October 2010, it has been included in UNESCO's list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The main features and the required materials in order to design the famous "lefkaritiko" are:
- A small pillow called "ploumi"
- Irish linen
- French thread
- Both sides are embroidered in the same way so that there is no front and back.
- The designs are geometrical and include cutworks and petit point.