Le perle di vetro a lume da Murano

Bead work has a millenia old relationship with textile arts. I remember visiting an exhibition in Zurich a few months ago about the Nasca culture (200 a.c. to 650 p.c.) where I saw beautifully stitched textiles with handmade ceramic beads. –

During my third visit to Venice this spring, I learned more about the famous “perle di vetro a lume da Murano”: the Murano glass beads.

Glass making is an ancient handicraft that originated in the Arabic area in the times of the Ancient Greeks. It is said that the Syrians perfected this craft during the following centuries.

So in the late Middle Ages, glass products were in very high demand in Europe. They were a treasured merchandise good. Clever Venetian craftsmen from the isle of Murano decided to try to follow along and started experimenting with glass making themselves. What started with copying Syrian glass making evolved into an experienced and widely recognized craft over the centuries. And with the downfall of the Osmanian Empire, Murano glass definitely conquered the world trade.

Glass is made of silica sand and salt acid. For color, various mineral acids are added.

colored silica sand
mineral acids and colored glass samples

The famous and also for textile arts and crafts often used Murano glass beads are made of colored glass bars, fused into a thicker bar and finally cut into small pieces that are then further processed and molded.

a bead worker’s bench
glass bars

In the local Museo del Vetro (glass museum), old sample cards of glass beads are on display, such as the two below, fabricated by glass artist G. B. Francini 1820-1861:

I am totally inspired by this beautiful collection! I love the variegation, don’t you too?

All pictures taken by me in Museo del Vetro in Murano.

Gli merletti di Burano (needlelace of Burano)

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.

Untitled-1 copy
Venice, 16th century. Reticello point.

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.

Venice, 17th century. Burano point.
Venice, 17th century. Venice point.

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.

Venice, 19th century. Pattern.

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!

by Alessandra Sittuni

(I also bought a handmade doily… which I eventually will embroider with my own stitches… ideas are already forming…)