Friday, June 12, 2009
The intricate lace patterns of Belgium are unmatched in any other country. The lace trade rose during the early Renaissance, and Emperor Charles V decreed that lace-making should be a compulsory skill for girls in convents and beguinages (where women live as nuns without taking vows) throughout Flanders. Lace became fashionable on collars and cuffs for members of both sexes, and trade reached its peak in the 18th century.
Lace makers are traditionally women. Hundreds of craftswomen still work in Bruges (Brugge) and Brussels, both centers of bobbin lace, creating intricate work by hand – often using over 100 threads per bobbin. Belgian lace is bought today mainly as a souvenir, but despite the rise in machine-made lace from other countries, the quality here remains as fine as it was in enaissance times.
In Brussels, close to the Grand Place, the Musée du Costume et de la Dentelle (Museum of Costume & Lace) has a permanent collection of fine lace. Displayed in subdued lighting and safely laid out in drawers, this extraordinary collection contains pieces made on the spindle and with needles. The costumes the lace was made for are also displayed in thematic exhibits.