Whilst being on vacation in Venice, Italy, I had the chance to visit the Museo del Merletto (the Needlelace Museum) today. The museum is located in a building formerly known as Scuola del Merletto (the Needlelace School) on the isle Burano in the Venetion lagoon. The Scuola was founded in the late 19th century. But let us travel a little further back in history first…
Since the 16th century, royals all over Europe and other upper class people as well as the church (esp. the Vatican) liked to show their wealth and power by wearing robes enriched with exquisite gems and laces. Therefore, lacemaking was a highly demanded craftwork and in Venice (as well as all over Italy), many women could up their housholds’ incomes by selling laces they made by hand.
A hundred years later, Louis IV, Roi Soleil (the Sun King), even “employed at his court” (ordered to Versailles) specialized Venetian lace makers to fullfill his need for exclusive garments.
After the epoch of the French Revolution, the demand for lace adorned garments recinded when lace as a former status symbol of the rich became a detested symbol of bigotry.
In the 70ies of the 19th century, the Scuola del Merletto was founded in Burano to preserve the traditional techniques of lacemaking. The Scuola was managed by a convent and the nuns thought woman and also girls from as young as having finished primary school the art of the Venetian needlelace.
In a short film, one elderly woman remembered going to school there and that the nuns very often cut into her pieces as they always found some irregularities. As a young girl she was devastated and thought she would never learn. But she went on and on and, in her final school year, received a prize for her outstanding craftsmanship!
The Scuola del Merletto was closed in 1974, but 7 years later, the Museo opened its doors.
(Please note that I cited the above history as I remember reading it at the museum today. There were no booklets or information flyers to take home.)
There are still a few lacemakers working for the museum and for local craft stores. But as one seller told me, unfortunately there are no longer young apprentices…
Luckily enough, I found a local shop (also on the island itself) where a lacemaker sat at work! While watching her busy hands I appreciated the delicate motif she wove with her thin cotton thread… and I left with a beautifully crafted “raised work”: a butterfly, made by the same artist I met!
(I also bought a handmade doily… which I eventually will embroider with my own stitches… ideas are already forming…)