Brugge with its dreamlike network of canals, markets, and squares is a magical place and thus, it is only befitting that a city so enchanting should be famous for the equally lovely art of lace making. This beautiful art has been in vogue in Belgium for centuries and in its Flemish provinces, mainly two techniques was used. The first was needle lace, which was also known as the Renaissance lace and was sold mostly in Brussels and the second was bobbin lace, a specialty of Brugge. Considered to be the homeland of most famous lace in Belgium, Brugge’s lace history goes way into the 16th century when western Flanders used to be a part of Netherlands. It was a golden era for trade and commerce when arts too had flourished richly and lace making was so much patronized art of the Royals, that emperor Charles V decreed the skill to be a compulsory education for girls in convents throughout Flanders.
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The brief journey of the Brugge lace
Thus, the beginning of the 16th century saw the bobbin method of lace making being taught in private schools and orphanages and eventually, in the 18th century three Antwerp nuns established a lace-making school in Brugge, where the students were taught the art of lace making along with their religious studies. With so much patronage and dedication from all over Europe, Belgian lace soon became an unmatched product of its kind and the country thrived on the precious lace trade which peaked during the early Renaissance. Beautiful lengths of hand woven lace became a must have accessory for the rich and the famous and the fashionable of both genders heavily trimmed their collars and cuffs with it. Those were the days of rich, ostentatious fashion and nearly 1500 kinds of the lace trimming from silver, gold, and silk had flourished at that time. Motifs too had varied along with the texture of thread used and in the middle of the 17th-century laces with the flower, plant and with the images of vases became popular.
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In pursuit of Brugge lace in Brugge
Easily distinguished by its unique flower work, Brugge lace is made from ribbons which get interlinked by crocheting of small loops of chain stitches and this elegantly crocheted laces of delicate filigree patterns were mostly used as napkins, curtains or trimmings. They are still widely popular home linen items and Brugge is lined with shops selling this beautiful artwork in form of pillow cases, table cloths etc. They had been displayed from old fashioned glass shop fronts in fluttering wisps of white and in my eyes, had added a beautiful vintage glamour to the already gorgeous city.
Why I chase lace across the world
It is now needless to say that I love lace and my first tryst with it had happened many years ago when I had received a handmade Chantilly lace saree as an heirloom from my grandmother. Though old and badly in need of restoration, the intricate beauty of the heavy lace had taken my breath away and I had become a huge fan of the art ever since. During my entire travel career, I had gotten into a habit of collecting lace items from every special destination and sometimes had greedily indulged in expensive antique pieces like Venetian lace collar in Burano. Lace over the years had become a sort of a pricey hobby for me and thus it had been no wonder that I had dragged Tarek through the length and breadth of Brugge in pursuit of lace.
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Visit the Kantcentrum for an insight into the beautiful Brugge lace
It had been a cloudy day with moody skies pouring rain showers in intermittent pauses and Brugge had been gloomily grey. The unpredictable play of rain and sun had marred our lace trail ambition to quite an extent and we had finally ended up with the discovery of a breathtaking shop, visit the eye-opening Kant museum and a delicious lunch. Locally known as kant in Belgian, the art of making Brugge lace is still practiced with pride in the old city and the Kantcentrum is a museum dedicated to this beautiful art. Located in a small historic building in the quieter part of old town, Kantcentrum includes a small church, the rooms of the lace school itself, a modest shop selling lace items and a sensible lace museum.
The historic museum shop of Kantcentrum in Brugge
Complete with a modest entrance fee, bilingual explanations, a multi media program on “spellenwerk” (the making of lace with pins and bobbins) and a wide assortment of beautiful lace on display, the museum had been intimately charming, pocket-friendly interesting and informative at the same time. Beautiful spindles, spools, and antique lace items had lined its old walls and black velvet display boxes and soon, we had been lost in a time-warped world of rich art, glamour and wealth. The busy crocheting sounds of lace-making ladies practicing on the 2nd floor of the building had heightened Kantcentrum’s vintage aura and their gnarly old nimble fingers had spoken of years of dedication to filigree details.
The Brugge lace shop which looked like a Renaissance painting
We had found the Kantcentrum to be as spiritually soothing as a place of worship and it had been near the very spot that lace making had originated. The building had been subtle and as old as the art of lace itself and both had emanated quiet pride in being an important part of Brugge‘s’ (as well as Belgium’s) heritage. Our next stop of t’Apostolientje, had been very close to the Kantcentrum and the two houses of lace could not have been more different in aesthetics. While Kantcentrum had been spartan at best, t’Apostolientje had been picture postcard beautiful. A lace shop and a museum, it had been located in a lovely vine-covered stone cottage on the same lane which had housed the Kantcentrum and t’Apostolienthje had been unlike any other lace shops I had ever seen. With soft dimmed lighting and strains of classical Mozart playing in the background, the shop had seemed straight out of a Renaissance painting and it had been choc a bloc crammed with extraordinarily beautiful and classic Brugge lace pieces.
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Soak in the timeless romance of Brugge lace at t‘Apostolientje
Interspersed with oil paintings of lace-clad old ladies and modern whimsical lace pieces, t’Apostolientje had been a great place to shop for good affordable antique lace. For more information, check out http://www.apostelientje.be/UK/1 We had hung around at the lovely shop with the gracious owner Anne Thys while the rain had pounded the old cobbled streets outside. Thunder had cracked open the sky with sharp retorts and fat raindrops had left spidery lacy trails of water on the glass windows. Inside the t’Apostolientje, the soft light had faded more and the pristine white lace had glowed from their display boxes. They had been scattered like careless jewels all around and the papery frail antique ones had gleamed buttery yellow of time. It had been one of the loveliest rainy afternoons we had ever spent and our Brugge lace trail had ended being as beautiful as the art itself; Romantic, precious and memorable for life.
Travel Tip for your Brugge lace trial
Know where to shop for affordable Brugge lace
Today, lace remains as popular as it was during the medieval times and nearly every bride swears by yarns of the dreamy, gossamer lace for her D-Day attire. The tradition of women lace makers which had started with Emperor Charles V’s decree had continued into current times and even today, hundreds of craftswomen are employed in lace-making industries in Brugge and Brussels. Though the fierce competition from popular machine-made lace is slowly putting the hand-made product at grave risk of dying out, Belgian lace continues to be a connoisseur’s item and can be bought as lovely souvenirs. Brugge is a great place to shop for lace and the historic city is filled with shops selling the beautiful artwork. While an antique Brugge lace is expensive, modern pieces are more affordable and these can be bought in form of curtains, pillowcases, napkins, collars etc. Not many shops in Brugge, irrespective of their claims are authentic dealers of antique lace and only a handful sell genuine collector’s items. For the real antique lace, the following shops are worth looking into.
Head to the antique shops for the collectors Brugge lace pieces
The original shop of Diane Claeys, lace collector extraordinaire, the iconic Claeys sells old Brugge lace along with exquisite pieces of old jewelry. 19th-century collars, runners, shawls etc of good quality antique lace line their display walls along with traditional framed motifs. Many of Claeys’ items are rescued and lovingly restored goods, so they often come with a heavy price tag. For more information, check out http://www.claeysantique.com
Rococo is another shop which deals with antique lace and it belongs to Mieke Brack, a hereditary lace maker, lace teacher, and a lace collector. With two shops catering to both tourists and serious collectors, Mieke sells affordable souvenirs along with antique lace for connoisseurs and threads, bobbins and other supplies for lace makers. Her pet project of private lace museum is underway and she has an incredible collection of old lace maker’s pattern books, tools and a lovely collection of old lace. For more information check out http://www.rococobrugge.be.
Take a break with a Belgian bite and a beer
While in Brugge, take a break from the lace trail and indulge in some good Belgian beer along with crispy frites at the famous Half Moon (De Halve Maan) brewery. For the ones with finer taste, the famous Moules, or mussels is a must try. Another option is waterzooi, the Belgian stew made with a heavy dosage of good beer.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE