The history – between reality and legend – of the lace tradition in Burano, the oldest place in the world for embroidered lace.
Burano prides itself as the oldest center for embroidered/needle lace (whereas for pillow lace is Flanders), a beautiful Island near Venice. An old legend about Burano recounts that a fisherman’s fiancée, while out navigating East, was tempted by mermaids singing. The man who withstood it was rewarded for his loyalty by the Mermaid Queen, fascinated how a man could resist the charms of the singing.
The mermaid hit the boat with her tail and with the foam created by the water movement created the nuptial veil for the bride.
On the wedding's day, the woman was admired and envied by all the young women of the Island who tried to re-create the same effect of the veil using a needle and a thread thinner and thinner, hoping to obtain an even more beautiful effect for their own veil.
The first Burano lace trace back to 1500. It was created in the noble house using a needle and thread without any canvas for support. The subjects were geometric designs; flowers, animals...
During 1600 the embroidery became more and more complicated, so much so that it spread through to Europe and the women who embroidered the lace were called in France to work there. Because of this, France became a competitor that, anyhow, could never catch up with the beauty and the elegance of Burano lace.
Today many of Burano's lace work is exhibited in the Museo del Merletto, in Burano's little square. Lace was such a big part of the Island that the name of a famous lace worker, Cencia Scarpariola, was given to one of its street
The lace is created by 5 steps, each one executed by different people.
By 1900, in Burano the lace was embroidered by much fewer people than in 1500 because many young women went to work in the tailors- shops in Murano or Venice. The ones who did, though, started very early, since they didn't attend school and spent all the time with their mothers who taught them how to do it.
At 12-13 years they started to go to school at the Scuola dei Merletti, managed by nuns. It was a convenient place to work, since until 1950 most of the houses didn't have neither heat nor light, whereas there they were paid fort heir job and they also have light and heat all day.
Once again, Italy is a place where tradition and craftsmanship are still sheltered and nurtured, although it's becoming more and more difficult to protect these beautiful forms of art (just like filigree). One way to keep them alive is to embrace and remember them. The other is to read about them and to go see for yourself just how beautiful they are.
Written by: Elisa della Barba