Read on to find out how these one-of-a-kind belts are made and about the closely guarded trade secrets of the Stiegler leather embroiderers.
Quill embroidery in Tyrol dates back to the 17th century. However, nowadays it is almost "a dying art".
Not far from Mayrhofen-Hippach, in the village of Stumm in the Ziller Valley, Alexander Stiegler runs the valley’s only quill embroidery company, which has been his family’s business for six generations. In the whole of Austria there are only a handful of professional Ranzen embroiderers. As it isn’t possible to do an apprenticeship in this craft, the technique is usually only passed on from generation to generation.
It takes love, passion and a great deal of patience to create a finished Ranzen
This is exactly how the handicraft has been passed on in the Stiegler family. Alexander learnt his craft from his father. However, it’s not only the technique which is important, but also having an incredible amount of patience. Some of the very elaborate embroideries require 350 to 450 hours of work! Of course, the amount of work is reflected in the price of these bespoke pieces – but people are willing to pay a few more euros for a truly unique work of art.
Peacock feathers and a closely guarded trade secret
Before starting to embroider the leather, a good deal of preparation is required. Firstly, the quills need to be made. The green of a peacock feather is cut off and the quill that remains is split into different widths (= feather quill) for the embroidery. Cutting the quills is one of the most difficult parts of the whole process and requires a good deal of practice. However, how the knife is used to shape the quills is a closely guarded trade secret!
120 to 130 feather quills are needed for one Ranzen.
After the feather quills have been made, the chosen design is drawn by hand and then copied onto the leather with tracing paper. Then the embroidery can begin! An awl (a special tool) is used to puncture a hole the leather and then the quill is pulled through from back to front. This must be done twice per hole. The result is a tiny little stich detail in the overall pattern. It’s no wonder that making a Ziller Valley Ranzen is so time-consuming.
Salvaging old Ranzen
The Stiegler family don’t only make Ranzen: they also produce the ornate leather cowbell bands for the Almabtrieb festival, belts, handbags and purses, braces and much more. And every single piece is a bespoke work of art! The embroiderers in Stumm is also the place to go to repair and restore old Ranzen. So if you have a Ranzen at home which needs salvaging, take it straight to the Stiegler family in the Ziller Valley. They have the skill to restore it to its former glory.