August 2014 Event: “From Craft, to Industry, to Art”.

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Presentation by Dr Consiglia Azzopardi

The following article has been reprinted with minor modifications from the Notice sent out in August.  The full article with pictures can be seen in the September Newsletter.  

The special event on 5 August, From Craft, to Industry, to Art, by Dr Consiglia Azzopardi was well attended.  She gave us a fascinating history of the development of lace-making.  Following this, Mary Farrugia, who teaches lace making in St Albans, gave a brief demonstration of the process and we were treated to a display of various pieces of lace, some over a hundred years old.  We thank Agnes Cauchi for the following summary of Dr Azzopardi’s talk.  

History of lace-making in Malta – summary by Agnes Cauchi

Since the 16th century, lace or 'bizzilla' featured as a craft, then as an industry, and finally an art.  Back in 1619, Gozitan women were altering cloths bordered with lace.  They were also trying to retrieve old pieces from abroad!

How did these arrive in Malta?  There was a trade going on between Malta and Spain, Flanders, France, the Netherlands and Italy.  Malta was also exporting lace to these countries.

What is Maltese lace, as opposed to lace from Belgium, Spain, etc?  It simply means that the technique is different to other 'laces'. The pillow is different, the Maltese pillow is cigar shaped or 'trajbu', whereas in the other countries, the pillow was round, called 'tombolo'.  The bobbin method was developed in Gozo and designs were drawn by Gozitan artists. 



In the 19th century, lace became an industry. In 1888, Dun Giuseppe Diacono, who was the parish priest of Xagħra, Gozo, opened the first school of lace making, called 'Casa Industriale –Xagħra'.  It eventually moved to Racecourse Street, Vittoria, where it remained till 1960.

 In 1861, the Maltese exhibited a piece of Maltese lace at the London Lace Exhibition and it took first prize.  After that, lace was exported to England.  However, it had to compete with lace from other countries.  Foreigners started copying the design and making lace by machines, so the Maltese Cross was introduced in every piece of lace to show that it is genuinely Maltese.

Maltese Lace became so sought after, that when Princess Elizabeth became queen, the English ladies living in Malta gave the new queen a lace present – a 22 foot runner and 60 matching place mats. The people of Gozo also donated a table cloth to the queen.

Now, at the University of Malta, Gozo campus, lace has become an art.  Apart from lace-making classes the student lace workers are restoring old lace pieces, and studying styles of old shawls. They also design new ones.

Thanks to these initiatives, lace making in Gozo is flourishing once again.


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