Thursday, July 16, 2009

[the art of lace making] brugge and surrounds

Old Flanders Milanese Style

This post draws on two articles, here and here.

Flemish lace

Lace came into existence as a decorative edging for the clothes of the rich and was designed to replace embroidery in a manner that could with ease transform dresses to follow different styles of fashion. For unlike embroidery, lace could be unsewn from one material to be replaced on another.

Flanders grew it's own flax which was one of the reasons it was here that lacemaking blossomed. Many lace types developed in this area including Mechlin, Flanders, Brussels, Binche, Lille, Bayeux, and Duchess.

From the sixteenth century onwards, bobbin lace making was taught in private schools and orphanages. In 1717, a time of great poverty and distress, the bishop of Bruges, a certain Mgr. Van Susteran, thought that lacemaking would provide a modest income for the poorest families.

The job of teaching this delicate art was given to three nuns from Antwerp and the Congregation of Apostoline Sisters and such was its success that the lace school soon moved to larger premises. Even when Joseph II shut down 13 convents and religious houses in 1783, the Apostoline Sisters were allowed to continue with their teaching.

C17th Flanders lace

After the Napoleonic wars, the demand for lace dropped drastically and it was at this time that the inventive ladies of Bruges began developing their own lace with heavier thread that could be made more quickly. Bruges lace is a simplification of Duchesse without the heavier gimp thread.

It is generally not a lace used in lengths of trim for clothing as that fashion had almost died. It was most commonly made up of "motifs" used as appliques and doilies.

By 1860 the students numbered more than 400 and the school had become famous for its speciality, ‘Binche’ or ‘Point de Fée’ – the Fairy Queen stitch.

This lace was snapped up by the burgeoning tourist trade, of the new middle class. This saved the area and kept Bruges the lacemaking centre of the latter half of the 19th and the 20th century. It still maintains a lacemaking school know as Kant Centrum (Lace Centre).

In Bruges today

Today, Bruges lace is popular with beginning lacemakers as it is easier to learn than most lace and is worked with very few bobbins comparatively speaking.

The finest of the Bruges lace though is made with between 300 and 700 bobbins. It is composed of freely flowing trails of narrow clothwork. These trails form scrolls and connections between the flowers and leaves. This is all kept together with "braids" or narrow bridges between design elements, much like the leadwork in stained glass windows.

Royal Lace, Belgium

Bobbin lace is worked with many threads; each wound onto a separate bobbin. The pattern (pricking) of pinholes is marked on stiff card and is fastened to a firm pillow packed with straw – although nowadays a piece of polystyrene is often used. The threads are fixed at the start of the pattern, although more can be added, or removed, as the work progresses. All the stitch involved two pairs of bobbins, i.e. four threads.

Once the stitches have been made they are held in position with pins pushed through the pinholes in the pricking into the pillow. The pattern motifs, which can be outlined with gimp (a thicker thread), are usually worked in cloth stitch or half stitch but more elaborate filling stitches are also used. Bobbin laces can be worked in two different ways.

In straight laces the motifs and ground of meshes or bars are made in one continuous process. In part laces the motifs are made separately and then joined with bars or a mesh ground. Once the lace is finished it is released from the pattern by removing the pins.

Two main techniques are practised in the Flemish provinces of Belgium. The first, a needle lace, is still manufactured in the region of Aalst. It is called Renaissance or Brussels lace because it is largely sold in Brussels. The second type, the bobbin Lace, is the speciality of Bruges, is non-commercially produced and expensive. Bruges lace is typified by its flower work and can be made with a thick or thin thread.

Below you can see lace being made in Bruges.


  1. To make lace is so time cocnsuming when done by hand I am not surprised it died out. :)

    Where does your interest in lace come from James?

  2. when In south America the ladies sit by the side of the road knitting and crocheting .... then selling there goods mainly alpaca hats scarves gloves socks.

    since coming home i have sent for a book "learn to Crochet " :-)

  3. it certainly is lovely. I have some crocheted things of my great gran (the passtime of an Amer. Southern lady of old days). I regret that I couldn't be bothered to learn.


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