The art of lace-making

love-opera-victoria-bakerLast time, I told you about a beautiful kimono-like coat in the Bruce Museum textile collection. Today, I want to tell you about their finely wrought bridal veil made of Belgian lace and measuring no fewer than nine-feet long that would capture the imagination of any girl.

Housed in the Bruce Museum’s permanent textile collection, the veil dates back to the 19th century and was a gift from Mrs. Patty Auchincloss. For more information please log onto

The art of Belgian lace is an ancient one, steeped in history and fairytale. The skill of making lace came by way of Antwerp to the industrious and beauty-loving Flanders. Flanders possessed a multitude of workers already skilled in weaving, and the nec­essary lace material in her valley of the Lys, the finest flax region of the world.

The term ‘needle lace’ generally refers to a fabric with an open design which has been created using a needle and thread over a pattern. The pattern is drawn on a heavy backing, which will be removed at the end, leaving only the open lace. Bobbin lace is created by twisting a series of bobbins with thread over a network of pins on a pillow. Once it is finished, the pins are removed, and the beautiful lace is released from the pillow.

Since its creation, lace had been held in high esteem. Due to its handcrafted nature it was very costly to make and was thus available only to the clergy and nobility. One of the chief appeals of lace over other embellishments such as embroidery was that it was a form of portable wealth which could easily be moved from one garment to another; so important was lace that it was included in trousseaus alongside precious gems, as well as in wills and estates.

The handiwork of lacemaking has largely been done by women over history, though the patterns were frequently drafted by men. Even today, the secrets of handcrafting exquisite lace are held by nuns, particularly in Belgium, who have retained their skills despite the rise of machine made lace.

So, what is it exactly that we found so appealing about lace? It’s the gossamer-like beauty and fragility of the fabric, the hours of handiwork in exchange for a moment of pleasure, the thousands of invisible stitches that pull together this delicate masterpiece.

If you can, I urge you to take a look at the Belgian lace veil at the Bruce Museum, it’s like peering into another culture and just for a moment stepping into the fairytale. And remember, it’s more than a piece of fabric in a museum, it’s alive. And it tells the history of life: ever-changing yet always the same.


Victoria Baker, of Greenwich, is an opera singer. Winner of many prestigious competitions, she has performed and worked with distinguished artists all over the world (notably at Lincoln Center). Should you have any questions that deserve answers and may be in print please call 203-531-7499 or e-mail [email protected]

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