New life in old art – Maltese lace

Maltese lace bobbins

Back home in Ireland, in Carrickmacross, they’re famous for their lace. It’s a tradition that dates back to the 1820s apparently and from what I know of it, the lace is made with a tiny hook, a little like a crochet needle. On Gozo, the Gozitons use an imhadda (pillow) or what the Maltese call a tribu (from the Maltese word tarbija for baby) complete with bobbins and pins. 

But it wasn’t always so. As far back as the sixteenth century, they, too, used needles. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that the bobbins arrived from Genoa. To watch someone at work is fascinating. The pattern is traced and stuck to the pillow, the thread held in place by pins. Depending on the intricacy of the pattern, the lacemaker could be dealing with 30, or 40 or even 100 bobbins. Just thinking about how they keep track of what goes where boggles the mind. The finished piece has no seams and the work itself take patience. It’s used in prisons and mental institutions for therapy and I can well imagine how hours and hours of bobbin work would either kill you or cure you.

Maltese lace

I had the good fortune to meet Consiglia Azzopardi who teaches lacemaking at the University of Malta on Gozo. Author of a couple of books on the subject and now working on her thesis, she is determined to revive the craft on the island. When the factories came, and women went out to work, they no longer had time for lace. But such is their commitment to reviving the art, lacemaking is now a compulsory subject at the Government trade schools, and has even attained Diploma status at the university.

Maltese lace bobbins

Because it takes so much time, it can’t be billed out at usual commercial rates –  who would pay for it? But when you think of it as an original work of art, that puts it in a different light. Apparently there’s been a surge of late for black silk stoles and shawls. Tempting? Pieces can be commissioned from the cooperative – but you shouldn’t be in a hurry as they can take up to a year to make. But there’s nothing like planning ahead. I have to admit to being sorely tempted. I quite like the idea of an heirloom, but then dread to think what uses my creative nephews would find for my Goziton shawl.

Maltese lace.



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