The Famous Lace of Burano
February 19 2014
A few weeks ago I was in the mystical city of Venice, Italy to curate hand blown glass pieces from the island of Murano for the shop (explore what I found here!). Venice has been one of my favorite European cities since it captured my imagination as a little girl. Back then I couldn't quite wrap my head around the thought of a city whose roadways were canals or that my little Venetian counterparts had to take boats instead of buses to school, but I was mesmerized by the idea. In college, when I was finally able to visit the fabled city, my fascination turned into complete adoration. Now whenever I have the opportunity I make my way back to traverse its arched bridges, get lost in its narrow alley ways and indulge in its scrumptious sea fare.
Dreamy Venetian Canal
Off the shores of Venice are several famous islands - Murano, known for its world class hand blown glass art, and the colorful island of Burano, known for its intricate lace work. The discoveries I made on both islands were magnificent, but since this was my first time to Burano I was particularly captivated by the quaintness of the island and the tradition of its lace work.
Burano - usually featured as one of the Top 10 Colorful Locations in the World.
The vibrantly colored fishermen's houses are a trademark of the island and said to have been originally used to delimit the properties. Today it is a visual cornicopia for artists and tourists alike. I found it impossible to put down my camera even for a moment. Every corner was a new treat for the eyes.
See! Another Treat! This little pink paradise was for sale!
Burano was most likely settled by the Romans, but rose in importance only in the 16th century when women on the island began making lace with needles. Legend says that the inspiration to create lace was started with an alter cloth that Leonardo Di Vinci bought for the Duomo di Milano from a village famous for its lace work on the then Venetian occupied Cyprus. The quality and detail of the lace produced on the little island soon had it being exported all across Europe.
Burano Lace Makers at work. Photo from Martina Vidal Venezia.
France was a particular admirer of the intricate lace work. On his coronation day, Louis XIV, King of France, was said to be wearing an original, precious lace collar made by the skilled lace workers of Burano. It took two years of patient work to create the elegant piece that merely peeked out from under his cloak.
With the end of the Venetian Republic in 1797 also came the end of lace production. It did not revive again until 1872 with the opening of a lacemaking school. Production on the island boomed once more.
A contemporary lace work I saw on Burano.
Today all lacemaking schools are now closed, but production of this excruciating delicate handcraft still exists. However, due to the time consuming nature of the art, very few make lace in the traditional manner. During my visit I learned that the youngest lace maker was 50 years old while the oldest was 94 years old (and she does it without glasses!). To make a piece - like the gorgeous doily above - seven women are required as each is a specialist in a particular stitch. A small 8" round decoration could take several months to finish and the retail cost would be upwards of 1500 Euro (yes, that isn't a typo).
Learning so much about this centuries old - yet dying - art, I had to acquire a piece for myself. I entered a little shop called La Perla and was greeted by a lovely sales woman named, Mariella. With her help and stories, I explored the vintage and new lace creations the shop showcased...some of which left me speechless with their detail.
My little purchase - a Burano lace necklace!
I decided on a delicate, unique necklace that I felt was the perfect souvenir from an island so steeped in artistic tradition. My necklace came with a certificate of guarantee signed by the shop owner whose mother was the "master" lacemaker on my necklace project (only 6 women were needed to create it versus 7). Like Burano, it really is one-of-a-kind.
One more pic of Burano :) with a view of the leaning campanile of the Church of San Martino.
If you are in Venice, I highly recommend the 40 minute vaporetto ride out to Burano. This island of 2800 inhabitants will charm you with its colors, history and lace. In fact, it may work its magic to such a degree that you might find yourself not blinking an eye when it comes time to purchase that 8" doily :).
Watch the below video produced by the Lace Museum on Burano (Museo del Merletto di Burano) for more wonderful visuals of this extraordinary island, its art and history (I personally love the images of the older women making lace on their tombolo).
I would love to someday feature some of this lace work in the shop. It is too beautiful and its story too rich not to share.
What do you think?