Thursday, April 25, 2013

Venice! (Italy Part IV)

I’ve written a lot in my previous posts, more than I had intended! It’s quite difficult not to.  It was a jam-packed 8 days. I've had a few people ask me questions, who do I write so much, even, why do I keep a blog? I'll try an answer a few of these questions, (briefly) as they have a lot to do with the ethos of the symposium in Italy. There are several reasons why I keep a blog. The main reason is to remember stuff. I have a memory worse than a sieve, and have no idea of dates and times, so this helps me keep track of what I did and when. I don’t get the time to read many other blogs, I wish I did, but generally its art, craft or gardening blogs that I read. I like looking at what other people do and make, and its nice to share back. It's also a way of connecting with the world, especially those of us in rural areas, who have taken blogging as a way of preserving our traditional skills, and our sanity on long winter nights.  I also prefer it to a website. I don’t have a website, because, well, it’s too impersonal for me, I want something more fluid, and a blog suits me better. (Plus it’s free!!). I get surprised when people tell me they read one of my posts. I never check my stats, so I haven’t a clue how many readers I have.

I mentioned, I think, in post 1 about a meeting we had after the symposium, to see what steps we could now take. After the idea of a formal group was dismissed, we talked about other ways of communicating. Sharing and linking online seemed to be the way to go. As I link to each person, place, website, their ratings on Google search go up. It’s a small step, but a step none the less. People used to say to me, especially at the festivals, that the internet was killing crafts, and I always disputed this. It has saved it, in fact bolstered it immensely, through numerous devoted craft community sites, craft selling sites, through the online community of crafters, and let’s not forget YouTube! How fantastic is it to be able to watch videos of thousands of different kinds of crafts!  

I run two blogs, this one, my own personal blog and another, The Woolly Way of Ireland, a textile directory of sorts. I have kept the two as separate as possible; most people don’t know who runs the Woolly Way. I liked it that way, until now. Now I find its overlapping, and it’s harder to separate. Part of my trip to Italy, was to discover, and listen to how different textile people work, how they hear/share their information. How they survive, through sales and/or teaching. The support they get from their teachers, their peers, their government, etc. I could talk about this for hours! But I want to get on with my Venice post, so I’ll just say, I am writing these big long posts, because I want to remember, to share and to say, this story needs to be told. When a photographer took a photo of all the ‘young lacemakers’ at the opening of the exhibition, we joked about being the future of lace. We said in many years, they will look back on this symposium as a momentous occasion, (write books about us!), how we all came together, to save lace. We joked, but it’s true! For me it’s not just lace, it’s all kinds of textiles, all kinds of crafts, our shared heritage, our common thread (excuse the pun...). It’s what I do through the Woolly Way blog, which I intend to make into a big fancy shiny website...someday soon. But that’s another story, for another day. To Venice!!

There is something slightly unreal about Venice. I’ve heard so much about it, have always wanted to visit, but I think it’ll take a few visits to really take it in. After arriving by train, we headed straight for Burano, a multi-coloured island, famous for fishing and lacemaking.  

As I’ve said in a previous post, lace, poverty and fishing went hand in hand. Burano can trace back its roots to Roman times, and for most of this time, fishing was the main source of income. But they can trace back their lace as far back as 1500!  Burano lacemaking was greatly admired by the Venetian patrons and even the Royals of the world. King Louis XIV was said to be wearing a Burano lace collar for his coronation, Leonardo Da Vinci purchased a piece for the main altar of the Duomo di Milano.
Punto in Aria is the name for an early form of lacemaking, pioneered in Burano in the mid 16th Century. It is considered the first true lace because it was the first form of lace made without the use of a support or sub-structure – hence its name: a stitch in the air. This is a needlepoint lace, whereas across the lagoon, bobbin lace was made. (For a list and explanation of lace types visit the the Lace Fairy website here).

I have another story for you, this time a fisherman and lace. I love how many all the tales of the origins of lace in Italy, all have connections with the sea!

Legend has it that a betrothed fisherman out at sea heard a sirens call. He managed to stya away, and remain faithful to his love. Enchanted by this faithfulness, the siren queen gave him a gift. She thumped the side of the boat with her tail, creating foam from which a wedding veil developed. On returning home, he gave the veil to his fiancée as a gift. She was admired and envied by all the young ladies of the island, whereupon they begin to imitate the lace of the wedding veil, employing needle-and-thread. They made it even thinner, hoping to create a more beautiful lace for their own wedding dresses. These replications became Burano lace. 

(Another story is that a sailor brought back some unusual seaweed, and his lady love, and she tried to replicate it with needle and thread. I prefer the siren version). 

Both lacemaking and fishing have seriously declined on the island, the main income seems to be from tourists or the commute over to Murano or Venice itself.  Burano prides itself as the oldest centre for embroidered/needle lace. But for all its pride, according to my gang of experts, there wasn’t a piece of handmade Italian lace to be seen. Each shop had the same stock, tablecloths, scarves, some items of clothing, all made in China. There was little difference between what they had, and the prices. Statistics I found, say that 98% of the lace and 60% of the glass, for sale in Venetian shops are made in China. Disappointing, but not surprising, the same is done here in Ireland. Home-made lace is far too time-consuming and expensive. Impossible to make a living from it now.
We headed to our little hotel, dumped ours bags and went for a wander. The first time, really, in a week, I’d had a few moments to myself. It was lovely to just wander arond the island, which was busy, but not crowded, more a gentle stream. But I can imagine it would be hell in summer. Then, we all met up and headed to the Museo del Merletto

It was the first Museum where we weren’t allowed take photos of the lace. It had an interesting video at the start, and then displays of a variety of Venetian Lace. I won’t go into the history of it. The sheer weight of Venetian Lace history is far too heavy of me, and I just don’t know enough about it, yet. I think, my little brain was close to busting at this point with all the new information, and it was hard to take more in. We had some great discussions over the lace displayed. One was the lack of displays of early lace. What was the earliest lace? The intricacy and delicacy of the work by the C16th was incredible, but it must have taken some time before it was developed to this level. It would be great to see a visual display of the timeline of lace. You could even make a family tree of sorts,  as so many laces come from Venetian lace. We did find just a few older pieces, which were more geometric than floral. Another piece, made of the finest linen thread, was truly astounding. The detail, the delicacy of it. We talked about the threads used, hand spun linen, so fine it’s now impossible to recreate. Leslie told us, it’s impossible to grow flax of that quality anymore, due to climate change or pollution, who knows. It’s impossible to hand spin the thread fine enough, making restoration of pieces difficult.  They used to burnish the lace with ivory so it shone. From a distance it would look like intricately carved ivory. They also talked about the how the wealth and knowledge of Venetian Lace was jealously guarded.  If a lacemaker was enticed to leave to another country, her whole family would be thrown into jail, until she returned home again. So, don’t piss of the lacemaker in the family!  We were, however, allowed take photos of some ladies that were making lace in the Museum. 

Just around the corner from the Museum was a shop, I can’t remember the name, but worth checking out if you are ever there. In the back of the shop, they have an amazing collection of lace. Some almost better than the museum itself! And we could take pictures to our hearts content. I’m going to post a load of the photos onto Flickr in the next week or so. So, if you want to see more of the lace, you can see some there.

We stayed on Burano for the night. As the tourists dispersed off the island, about 6/7pm, it became eerie, we realised we were the only tourists left on the island! All the shops packed up their belongings, and they all retreated into their homes, streets near deserted. Tourists don’t usually stay on Burano, we had pretty much booked up all the beds available, and there were only 12 of us! 

After another fine traditional Italian meal, most of our crew headed to bed. A few of us decided to be more daring and find a bar. Any bar. Apart from the daytime bars and restaurants, there are no visible night-time bars on Burano! After a sweep of the island, it doesn’t take long, we finally found locals who told us where the bar was. The only bar in Burano! Down one of the smaller darker alleyways, of course. When we finally got to it, we were reluctant to go in. It was awful. Pool tables, slot machines, with a Champions League match on the TVs. But we found a bar, with locals; we had to have one drink.

I didn’t sleep well, and woke early the next morning. At 6am, I was wandering the lanes of Burano taking lots of pictures of the multi-coloured houses. It was beautiful and peaceful, that’s why there are so few people in my photos. I loved all the colours! Burano is one of the poorer islands, and a huge number of the houses were for sale. From what I’ve read since, it’s near impossible to buy a house there. I can understand why, but it’s a shame to see some go derelict.

After breakfast we made our way to Pellestrina, another fishing island right on the edge of the lagoon. It separates the lagoon from the Adriatic sea. To get there you take a water-bus to Lido, then hop on a 4-wheeled bus (they have cars on Lido). We travelled the length of the island and then continued via ferry to Pellestrina. Only a group like ours would travel all around the outskirts of Venice, the edge of the lagoon, to visit the poorest of the islands! Pellestrina is famous for bobbin lace.

the gang taking a break on Pellestrina

We were to visit a museum and lace school there. Unfortunately one of the lacemakers had died, and her funeral was that day. We thought we might be able to visit the museum anyway, but they were all at the funeral. Heres a brief history about its revival in the 187Os. Michelangelo Jesurum learned the art of Pellestrina bobbin lace, as part of an effort going on in Venice at the time (1870) to revive the ancient art of lacemaking which had fallen into decline. He went on to win a gold medal in 1878 at the Universal Exhibition in Paris for his polychromatic lace (adding coloured threads to lace). By the beginning of the 20th century there were seven Jesurum workshops employing nearly 3000 women and the lace was recognized and sought worldwide. during World War 1, most of the women were making uniforms, and after the war few returned to lacemaking.

After a brisk walk down to the end of the island, (the island is only 500m wide, but 12km long!) we found a cafe open, and decided to lunch there. The small cafe was booked for lunch, so she put tables out into the square for us. As we were sitting, chatting, enjoying the sunshine, the hearse and funeral procession came down the smallest lane (the car just fitted!), into the square and over to the church. It was a poignant moment. We all stood up, bowed heads in respect. The lacemakers among the funeral procession would have known who we were, that we were there to meet with them. We ended up buying flowers and 2 of the group, brought them to the church. From a group of lacemakers to another. It’s hard to describe the moment. The ‘older’ lacemakers, then said, that why we came to Italy for the symposium, that’s why we are here. They came because they are worried, the traditions are dying, and there isn’t enough young people making lace anymore. It was a sad moment, but if anything, it gave us all a jolt. Yes, lacemaking will die out soon; we need to do something about it. A defining moment, bringing home the message, we need to do more to support our crafts, our craftspeople, each other. It’s one of the reasons I am writing so much about my trip, to remember and share.

I came across this lovely video of the Lace School on Pellestrina. It's in Italian, but worth watching, the shots of the lacemaking are beautiful. (If I'm not mistaken theres a string version of Hong Kong Garden by Siouxsie and the Banshees about 6 mins in. I like it!)


After a pleasant lunch, and oh, heaven, sitting in the sunshine for a short spell, we headed back into Venice city. A long, lovely water-bus ride through Venice to the Museo di Palazzo Mocenigo. A large building of gothic origin, rebuilt in the C17th, it houses the Museum and Study Centre of the History of Fabrics and Costumes.

The museum is currently closed for renovations, but there is limited access to the library and some of the collections. We had to walk several flights of stairs to the attic, where the collection is stored. Unfortunately the lace was all too well packed away, and awkward to take out, so they showed us some costumes instead. Still, how often would you get this close to such beauties, with no glass between and allowed take photos! Halfway through this session, the battery in my camera went. Typical... But it was our last day, and I wasn’t too disappointed. 

 his and her stockings, and a gown from C17th

I haven’t gone into Venetian history too much because, as I said earlier, there is too much to tell. But Venice is on my list (a very long list) of places to re-visit, especially when the Museum re-opens.
 Beautiful fabric shoes

A long train journey back to Pavia, sleep, bus, plane, bus, train, car and I was back in Dingle again. With a head full of info, thoughts, ramblings, notes, photos, questions, and excitement. I am excited. I’ve been busy out since I got back, working on different projects for our upcoming arts festival Feile na Bealtaine. But after that, I’m excited about spending the summer in my studio, and putting together a series of workshops for the summer. At least one of them will be on lace...

I'm adding in some websites, blogs, etc I've found with info on Italian texites at the bottom of the post for further and future reference. I'll update it as I come across more .


Angela said...

What fascinating trip you had - you were right to get it down in detail. It's a very enjoyable read, not that I know anything about lace-making, but being surrounded by all that creativity must have been wonderful :-)

Stitchlily said...

Thanks Angela. I still dont know an awful lot about lace! But yea, I dont often get to hang out with other textile folk. A lot of events here are seem to be very structured, workshops, lectures, etc, and not enough time to just hang-out. I'm going to try organise a few weekends this summer, minglings of makers! If you've any ideas, suggestions, would love to hear them!