Brussels – The origin of lace is difficult to locate in both time and place.
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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.