Burano, an island in the Venetian Lagoon, is the oldest place for lace craftsmanship. One of the most famous legends about Burano’s laces narrates that in ancient times a betrothed fisherman, while fishing outside the lagoon, stopped to hear the mermaids sing. It was known that mermaids would sometimes sing to sailors to hypnotize them, to distract them from their work causing them to walk off the deck, or cause shipwrecks. Or they would abduct fishermen and carry them under the sea to offer them to their water gods. But the fisherman had a fiancée and he did not fall for it; he kept on fishing, ignoring the mermaids. The mermaids’ Queen was so impressed by his loyalty to his fiancée that she decided to give him a gift: she hit the side of the boat with her tail and the foam the splash created became a splendid wedding veil.
On the wedding day, the fisherman gave the gift to his fiancée, and when she wore it everybody was stunned by the beauty. All the young ladies admired and envied the girl with the laced veil, and they started cutting and sewing every day, hoping to create an even more beautiful lace veil for their wedding dresses.
The first Burano laces date back to the 1500s; initially they were made in patrician houses, employing only needle-and-thread, using “punto in aria” (stitch in air) an early form of Needle lace considered the first true lace because it was the first meant to be stitched alone, and not on a woven fabric. It was combined with geometrical designs, flowers, animals, and spirals.
In the 1600s, they began to embroider using “punto a crocette”, worked by small flying flowers and the “punto controtagliato”, used for large and in relief billows in necklines. The King of France, Louis XIV, was said to be wearing an original and precious lace collar, which stood out on his cloak, made by very skilled lace workers of Burano after two years of patient work.
Soon these embroideries became famous all over Europe and Burano’s lace makers were invited to France to start a lace production.
Principally the lace workmanship was taking place inside the “Scuola Merletti” (Lace School). Today noteworthy works are exposed in a historical building located in the square of Burano, the “Lace Museum”.
Unfortunately, after the decline of the Serenissima Republic, lace workmanship fell down.
At the end of the 19th century, thanks to Cencia Scarpariola (a well-known lace maker of Burano), a new lace age began and new stitches were introduced, so that the embroideries became absolute artworks.
For the creation of a lace more than five steps were necessary, and laces are still made by five people. Each lace maker was assigned to the step they were good at (even if she/he knew all the stitches), so that the finished product was of the highest quality and very profitable since it was considered piecework.
There were ladies responsible for the designs, others for the neckline (the step in which the lace design is fixed on the fabric and paper layers). The first lace maker, after the fabric was attached to the lace pillow, performed the “ghipur” or “punto Burano” (the stitch of Burano) on the whole drawing. Then the other lace makers carried out the “sbarri”, the “punto rete” and in the end the relief which emphasized the trim size. Then the lace was pinched from the paper cutting all the seams and all the superfluous yarns were accurately removed by tweezers.
Martina Vidal, a legendary lace atelier, is located on the island and it is famous worldwide for its amazing hand-made production, but you can find many small workshops in the narrow roads of the colorful tiny island, especially on Via Galuppi, where you can still see lace makers at work.
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