A tradition fit for a Queen | Maltese lace making

19 June 2015

Lace making, otherwise known as ‘il-bizzilla’, is one of Malta’s oldest and most valued beautiful traditions.  Maltese lace is usually made from cream-coloured Spanish silk.  However, what makes Maltese lace truly unique is its inclusion of the symbolic Maltese cross into the lace pattern.  Discover more about the origins of Maltese lace and book your flights to Malta to learn the craft for yourself.

The lace pattern is initially hand drawn on parchment paper, and holes are pricked to show where the bobbin pins need to be placed.  The lace is then made using various threads which are each tied to a bobbin pin to produce beautifully intricate items such as table centre pieces, bridal veils or handkerchiefs.

Maltese Lace Making | Air Malta

The tradition dates back to the time of the Knights of St John from 1530-1798.  Back then, the bobbin lace produced was used as to accessorise the clothing of noblemen.  Due to its popularity during this time, the Maltese grew increasingly skilled and specialised in the art of lace making.  This craft was often encouraged by the Church, as it was also used to embellish the clothing of the Clergy.  Lace making, along with other textile crafts such as weaving eventually became the main source of income of many rural families in Malta and Gozo

Maltese Lace Making | Air Malta

Lace making almost faced an extinction during the economic depression in the 19th century.  Fortunately, the tradition was saved by a handful of individuals who strongly supported it.  The first person was Lady Hamilton Chichester who sent lacemakers to Malta from Genoa to teach locals how to produce Italian bobbin lace.  In the meantime, Dun Guzeppe, a designer in Gozo, was busy promoting the production of lace in Gozo.  This eventually led to the lace produced in Gozo developing its own distinct style.

Maltese Lace Making | Air Malta

However, the most famous admirer of Maltese lace was Queen Victoria.  Her love for the delicate Maltese lace led to a considerable increase in its popularity.  Incidentally, the Queen sent a piece of the intricate fabric to London in 1881, to be displayed at the ‘Exhibition of Industries’ in 1881.  In fact, a close look at the statue of Queen Victoria in Republic Square, Valletta reveals a sculpted lace shawl over the Queen’s lap, reflecting her love for the crafted fabric.  Maltese lace became so popular at one point that copies of the most popular Maltese lace designs were made and sent to China for mass production.

Maltese Lace Making | Air Malta

Nowadays, the tradition is still kept alive throughout Malta and Gozo.  However it is by far not as popular and widely practiced as it once was.  Nevertheless, by taking a walk through the quieter streets of Gozo, you will most likely come across local women making lace on their doorstep - a process which is truly fascinating to watch. 

If you would like to try your hand at lace making, traditional Maltese lace making courses will be taking place this summer.  The adult beginners classes will take place daily between 27th July and 7th August 2015.  This will be followed by an advanced course between 10th and 21st August 2015.  These will take place at L-Ixtabi Casa Bottega, a traditional Gozitan farmhouse in Gozo, allowing participants to gain insight into the calm and tranquil environment which traditional lace makers would have enjoyed in the past.  Courses for children will also take place in July and August.  For more information click here

Author: Sabine Jung  

Sources: http://www.findit.com.mt/en/travel-guide/travelguide/83/watch-lace-making.htm, https://leslievella.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/queen-victoria-and-her-maltese-lace/


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