The knotted lace, similar to the ancient method of making fishing nets still in use today, but with a decorative function, originally from Asia, spread in Europe during the Renaissance and can be seen as a forerunner of the artistic lace that was then emerging. It was used as hairnets and bonnets, to decorate costume pieces, and on textiles for religious and everyday use, either alone or in combination with other needlework. The Hungarian name refers to the Italian transmission: rete = net in Italian, rece in Hungarian. Since its peelable square-meshed pattern is well suited to represent biblical events in the spirit of the ‘biblia pauperum’, it was used mainly for making altarpieces (antependium) and rings throughout church history.
The recechipke spread from monasteries and noble courts to the bed and table linen of commoners with the emergence of the bourgeoisie, and also appeared in civilian dress. In Hungary, its finest examples survived from the 16th century as the recebetét of the Highland concubines. Other frequent occurrences and typical types are the ruffles and inserts which appeared mainly in the dress of Transylvanian Saxon women. It was from these German-speaking Saxons and the Swabians, who settled in several waves, that the people of the southern lowland region adopted the name Netz = Netz, or ‘necc’ in Hungarian, for their rececsipke.
At the turn of the 20th century, the rececsipke enjoyed a new renaissance throughout Europe in civilian costumes, on table and bed linen and as home decoration. In Hungary, after the First World War, the technique was given a new impetus by the awakening interest in handicraft products, and its design was renewed by the popular dressing and furnishing efforts of the people, which were a reaction to the trauma of Trianon, with the widespread use of motifs drawn from folk art.
This was coupled with a movement to develop various new types of Hungarian-inspired woven and sewn lace for women’s employment: e.g. lace from Csetnek, Halas, Hunnia, Móga, Nemeshany, Pannonia, Szolnok. At the same time, the organisation of the cottage industry production and sale of old lace began. In the Southern Great Plain, too, there was a strong effort to ensure the livelihood of the urban poor who were without work. According to a contemporary newspaper article:
“This means of earning a living was established in 1919 among the girls and women of Vásárhely and … ten years later we are not saying much when we say that it is now the permanent occupation and the honest basis of the livelihood of thousands of families. Among the cities of Hungary, the handicrafts of needlework, net-work, felt-work and lace-making are most established in Hódmezővásárhely, followed by Szentes, Orosháza and Makó. And that is the end of it.”
The town was a recognised centre of cottage needlework at the time. In 1943, Lajos Kiss wrote about it in his book The Life of a Poor Woman:
“…the girls of the town, when they left school, went to the knitting factory. Those who didn’t go to the factory were knitting at home. Knitting has been in fashion since 1920, after the World War.”
Unfortunately, the tradition of knitting in Fairtrade was lost after the Second World War. The basic reason for this was ideological, but it was also contributed to by the surge in female employment, changes in housing and clothing culture, and the fact that handicrafts became almost unaffordable. Since it was not, and could not be, included in the category of subsidised folk art, it was discredited as a peasant-civil tradition, both because it was seen as a servant of bourgeois taste and because it was condemned for its use in connection with the church. At the same time, it has failed to renew itself – and rightly so – by returning to folk traditions, something which had already begun in the 1950s with other crafts and cottage industries.
The Hódmezővásárhely Cottage Industry Cooperative did not find an apostle for this ancient technique either, in contrast to the way in which folk pottery was handed down in the ceramics of Hódmezővásárhely, or the way in which the patterns of fur embroidery on cushion ends were revived on objects of wear and use thanks to the pioneering work of the cooperative. Until the end of the 1950s, the factory continued to produce necc tablecloths, window dressings, curtains and wardrobe strips. Scores of peasant and bourgeois women earned a pension of their own in this cottage industry.
By the end of the 1950s, the old women who still did the handicraft had been replaced by young women who had grown up as employees, replacing traditional furniture with modern, bright and bright furniture, which no longer had room for the rose-patterned needlework of the fairground… There were no more orders from far away – because there was no one to give this very hard-working, ancient handicraft a new function. The value of live labour was making handicraft products increasingly unaffordable anyway, and this was making the less select needlework even more expensive than the higher-priced beaten and sewn lace.
Today, although lace making is part of the professional training in lace making, lace makers use it at most in combination with other handicrafts. And this is what gives the unique character of the vásárhelyer necc – in our town it was mostly made as a separate piece.