21 Jan 2015

Bobbin Lace – tradition and heritage

Faculty of Arts and Humanities of University of Porto

“It is that lace which, being so delicate, reveals all that lies beneath what it covers (…).”

Lace making has always been an impressive cultural tradition within Europe. Although it is impossible to accurately date its emergence, iconographic evidence points to the period of the late 15th to early 16th century, when techniques of decorating textiles were being employed that led to the appearance of lace. It is believed that the etymology of the word renda (the Portuguese for “lace”) can be traced from the Catalan word «randa», of Saxon origin, meaning edge or border. Perfected during the Renaissance, lace, whether made with bobbins or needles, belongs to a mixed heritage of techniques, fashions and designs. In Portugal, the story of bobbin lace and its makers dates back to the 17th century, to the parishes of Vila do Conde, Azurara and Árvore, primarily the former, where it is in evidence from the beginning of the century. Once it had become established and more widespread, bobbin lacemaking in Vila do Conde was soon playing an important role in the local economy. However, only by the 18th century can the full importance of lacemaking be seen in the north of the country, particularly in Vila do Conde. Yet, by the late 19th century the picture was completely different. That period saw the beginning of a decline in lacemaking in Vila do Conde, in response to which the Vila do Conde School of Lace was founded, still in operation today. The worsening of the crisis through the 20th century led to the founding of the Vila do Conde Craft Fair, held since 1978. The imminent demise of Vila do Conde as a lace centre led to the creation in 1984 of the Association for the Defence of Crafts and Heritage in Vila do Conde. Eventually, greater appreciation and raised awareness of the precarious state of Vila do Conde’s bobbin lace heritage culminated in 1991 with the creation of the Bobbin Lacemaking Museum in Vila do Conde.

The production of bobbin lace essentially relies on 100% cotton thread.

As fabrics have developed, it is now possible to make bobbin lace using contemporary materials.

Production of Bobbin Lace in Vila do Conde required lacemakers to have a highly skilled knowledge of techniques, as well as materials and tools.

The essential tools are: bobbins, pricking cards, thread, pins and needles.

Pins are used to secure the rows to be worked by the bobbins, according to the design on the pricking card, thus making a lace mesh.

Although they could use a hundred bobbins, lacemakers only work with four at a time.

Vila do Conde lacemakers do not always use pricking cards and rely on their experience to position the pins in order to produce lace.

The name master referred to a lacemaker who owned a workshop producing lace, and who taught his apprentices and workers.

The expression «Street Lace» may come from the fact that lacemakers worked in the doorway of their homes, virtually in the street.

The “border”, depicted here, is the element surrounding the motifs, highlighting them.

The "Lace for the World" project, a Bobbin lace sail made by 150 lacemakers, using 8 kg of thread.

Following the efforts and dedication of those who have not forgotten that tradition also means heritage.

There is a very wide range of possible uses for bobbin lace.

Embroidery and lace have long been a part of clothing, in features such as collars, cuffs and necklines, standing out from fabrics to give elegance and delicacy to garments.

In fashion design, lace has increasingly come to be used and wedding dresses, whether more or less traditional, are no exception.

«Worn hands»
Centuries of tradition in producing Vila do Conde bobbin lace has led to it having a symbolic meaning. However, as the 19th century gave way to the 20th, mass production and cultural globalization came to play an overpowering role in local and traditional arts. All the institutions dedicated to protecting and promoting bobbin lace in Vila do Conde combined to help keep the lace tradition alive. However, the spread of industry and the demand for high profits in the late 20th century led eventually to the end of what for centuries had been the lacemakers’ working environment. It was common to see lacemakers working collectively in the doorways of their homes, each facing the street and giving colour to the streets of Vila do Conde. Nowadays, these streets are just for passing through and some of the women who worked here are now employed in factories. Lace is, therefore, mostly made to order by lacemakers with worn hands, who can still remember seeing their mothers and grandmothers working in the doorway. For a long time the girls learned the art of lacemaking from an early age, knowing that this would be their future. Today, those attending the Vila do Conde School of Lace do so in the hope that this tradition will extend beyond its “timelines”.
Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto
Credits: Story


COORDINATION: Lúcia Rosas (FLUP) e Maria Leonor Botelho (FLUP)

SCIENTIFIC COMMISSION : Lúcia Maria Cardoso Rosas (FLUP), Maria Leonor Botelho (FLUP) e Hugo Barreira (FLUP)

CURATORS : Lúcia Maria Cardoso Rosas (FLUP), Maria Leonor Botelho (FLUP), Hugo Barreira (FLUP)

PRODUCTION UNIT : Maria Leonor Botelho (FLUP), Hugo Barreira (FLUP)

TECHNICAL TEAM: Ana Rita Moreira, Inês Bandeira, Mónica Nunes

AUTHORS: Ana Rita Moreira, Inês Bandeira, Mónica Nunes



Mónica Nunes
Arquivo Municipal de Vila do Conde

Câmara Municipal de Vila do Conde
Museu das Rendas de Bilros de Vila do Conde

ALMEIDA, Carlos A. Brochado de [coord.] – Rendas de Bilros de Vila do Conde. Vila do Conde: Associação para a defesa do Artesanato e Património de Vila do Conde. Camara Municipal de Vila do Conde, 1994.
MAGALHÃES, Manuel Maria de Sousa Calvet de - Bordados e Rendas de Portugal. Lisboa: Direção-Geral do Ensino Primário, 1963.
RÊGO, Pedro; PIRES, Ana - Rendas de Bilros de Vila do Conde: Um Património a Preservar. Vila do Conde: Minerva, 2005.

Credits: All media
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