In Flanders, lace is not merely a craft but a part of the region's cultural heritage. The roots of Flemish lace go back as far as the 15th century, and remain strong, with today's designers producing stunning creations.
Long live lace!
To tell the story of lace, we have to go back a good 600 years. A great many Belgian artists were experimenting with artistic fabrics at this time. In the beginning, the main kinds of lace were bobbin lace (using bobbins) and needle lace (using needles). Many new variations would be created in the centuries to come.
In the early 20th century, there were approximately 47,000 lace makers in Belgium. Around 70% of these worked in Bruges, which led to the founding of the Bruges Lacemaking School in 1911. Girls from 14 and up were taught about lace, but also received lessons in religion, arithmetic, trade and political economics. They made lace fringes for men's and women's clothing, as well as entire christening dresses, special collars and cuffs. Other lace creations were often framed behind glass. Later would come the introduction of machine-made lace—however, this was but a cheap alternative for sophisticated, traditionally made lace.
Headed for Flanders and interested to learn all about the world of lace? The Bruges lace school of the Apostolic Sisters recently moved to the brand-new Kantcentrum (Lace Centre), also home to a fine museum. “Look but don't touch”? Far from it! The new Lace Museum is a hive of interactivity and multimedia installations. You can even learn some of the tricks of the trade. In the Folklore Museum, in front of the Lace Centre, you can admire more lace and learn more about the social conditions of the lace makers.
The ideal cultural excursion in Bruges
A new lace tour of Bruges has also been created in partnership with the Guides Association. Official tour guides will take you around the city, showing you the most beautiful places and telling you all about the history of lace. The tour ends at the new Lace Museum. By the way, did you know that the Lace Centre also offers short- and long-term lacemaking courses, lace workshops and temporary exhibitions? Every afternoon you can see lace makers at work on the second floor.
You may also be interested to visit the Museum of Costume and Lace in Brussels. Since 1977, this has been a repository for a great deal of Belgium's textile heritage, from clerical vestments and old accessories to exciting, contemporary lace and embroidery. The museum also hosts many fashion exhibitions.
Lingerie and Lace
Lacemaking: a hobby for old ladies? Think again! Wait until you see the elegant, contemporary lingerie by Sun Mae. Proprietor Nele Catrysse from Hamme is a Belgium-based designer with South Korean roots who works almost exclusively with pure materials such as lace, satin and fine embroidery. She runs an exclusive lingerie boutique and atelier in the historical heart of Bruges. Definitely worth a visit! Veerle Praet is a designer of wedding dresses who often works with lace. Since 2001, she has had her own fashion house in Bruges and is known for her personal approach.