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  TRABEL : The history of Lace
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Brussels Lace

The Louise Verschueren Lace House in Brussels
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The famous bobbin lace Pompadour motive

The Bruges Lace Centre
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The Eurocrafts lace and broidery material shop in Bruges.
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Vanberg & Dewulf,
experts on the good Belgian life

The origin of lace is difficult to locate in both time and place. Some authors assume that the manufacturing of lace started during Ancient Rome, based on the discovery of small bone cylinders in the shape of bobbins. The Middle-Ages is a period of history where little is known about the manufacture of lace. For firm evidence we have to look back to the fifteenth century when Charles the Fifth decreed that lace making was to be taught in the schools and convents of the Belgian provinces. During this period of renaissance and enlightenment, the making of lace was firmly based within the domain of fashion. To be precise, it was designed to replace embroidery in a manner that could with ease transform dresses to follow different styles of fashion. Unlike embroidery, lace could be unsewn from one material to be replaced on another.

Since these earlier times, many styles and techniques of lacemaking have been developed, almost all of them in the Belgian provinces, which thus deserve to be named the cradle of lace. Today, two main techniques are practiced in the Flemish provinces of Belgium. The first, a needle lace, is still manufactured in in the region of Aalst. It is called Renaissance or Brussels lace because it is mostly sold in Brussels. The second type, the Bobbin Lace, is a speciality of Bruges, a magnificent city located in the west of Belgium. This is a very expensive type of lace to make and is therefore no longer manufactured for commercial purposes.

Lacemaking is an industry which nowadays employs about one thousand lace workers, all of them ladies aged between fifty and ninety years of age. Do not expect to find lace factories in Brussels or Bruges, they do not exist.
There are four different techniques of lacemaking, two of which are no longer practiced today and therefore come under the heading of antique laces. There are important differences between embroidery and lace: the latter is worked on the basis of a paper pattern, on a net  (tulle), or on a combination of both.



This type of lace is manufactured on a "carreau" or cushion - taken from the Flemish word "kussen"-, on which the paper pattern is pinned. This pattern is the design to be realized in lace. The lacemaker generally works with 22 bobbins, two of which are called The Conductors.
The more complicated the design, the more bobbins have to be used. For a Binche "Point de Fée" up to 200 bobbins have to be utilized.
The conductors are woven from left to right, and from right to left. The end of the row having been reached, the thread is held in place with a pin. The conductor's threads form the weft of the work, while the other bobbins form the warp, or the vertical threads of the design. To make the corner of a handkerchief, the lacemaker will have to work for about three days, depending upon her level of skill.


This type of lace is made with a needle. It is considered to be the most delicate and precious of all laces. The pattern is first designed on paper, often reinforced with a piece of tissue, on which the design is realized. The design usually represents a rose or some other flower. To start, the lacemaker elaborates the flower's outline with a thicker thread, so to add relief to the work. The next stage is to fill in the interior of the flower design with much finer thread and a variety of different stitches. A fine handkerchief medallion takes three days' work. To produce larger pieces, all the medallions are sewn together with a thread so fine that it can only be detected by the eye of an expert. A certificate dating from 1922 states that the veil made for Queen Elizabeth required 12,000 of work and is made up with 12,000,000 stitches.


This type of lace is still manufactured today and is mainly used for wedding veils, christening dresses, mantillas, and other ceremonial occasions. Nowadays, the net is made by machine. The flowers, stalks, and leaves are applied on the net by hand with a needle. In former times the net was also handmade, either by needle or by bobbins. This handmade net was given the Dutch name " Drochel ".



Renaissance Lace is also called Brussels Lace or Ribbon Lace. This is the lace that today is manufactured on a larger scale. It is a very strong lace used for house linen, such as, tablecloths, napkins, place mats, doilies, runners etc...
Again the pattern is drawn on paper. First the lacemaker will sew the ribbon onto the paper following the design. Then she will fill up the empty spaces with a needle using a variety of stitches. The paper is not pierced, the result being that only the paper and the ribbon are attached to one another. Finally when all the empty spaces are filled in, the tacking thread is cut on the back of the paper , the item of lace is removed and the paper pattern can be used again. The result is a finished item of lace, a corner, border, or a centrepiece, which may be then applied on Flemish linen to finish tablecloths, place mats, handkerchiefs, and a variety of other pieces.



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