Did you know that the delicate, dreamy fabric of lace once was the centre of conflict between two countries?
Click start to play today’s Spell It, where you can create the word “lace” with the letters provided.
But first, the story behind this elegant fabric.
Legend has it that a young fisherman in the Adriatic was engaged to a beautiful young woman. She wove him a strong fishing net as a present, and when he cast it into the sea one morning, he received a good haul of fish. But along with his catch, rose to the surface a wonderful web of glistening seaweed, which the fisherman thought was so unique, he brought it to his fiancée as a gift. Soon after, the young man had to leave with the rest of the region’s men, to answer the call of duty and be a soldier in the war. For days, his fiancée wept for him, holding on to his strange, wonderful gift.
One day, as she thought about him, she noticed the interlaced strands of her seaweed gift, and carefully began to unplait them, one by one. This is how she discovered the secret of the weave. She then had the idea of replicating the seaweed’s pattern in fabric, and used her needle and thread to follow the pattern, eventually creating the beautiful, delicate piece of cloth that we call lace.
As romantic and convincing as the tale is, the first piece of lace is thought to have actually been made in Venice in the early 16th century. Once it was introduced to the public, there was no going back – everyone wanted it.
Lace became so popular that women all over Europe began to weave it, although none did it as well as women in Italian convents, whose patient dedication produced work that was so fine that the threads could not be separated with the naked eye. Only by using a magnifying glass could you reveal the intricate pattern of the lace.
When Italian noblewoman Catherine de Medici was married to King Henry II of France, she was the first to encourage the craft of lacemaking in the country. But it didn’t bear much fruit, as designers in the country were inexperienced in the art. According to the 1920 reference book, The Romance of Lace, it was only a century later, when Louis XIV patronised lacemaking, that French lace began to slowly rival the Venetians, both in design and textural finesse.
Louis XIV was so taken by the fabric, he ordered that all designs be submitted to him for approval before being made – a practice that yielded incredibly intricate, delicate lace patterns.
Noting the growth in France’s lacemaking industry, Italian lacemakers closed up shop and moved to the region thanks to the promise of higher wages. And that’s when the trouble started.
After seeing a large exodus of skilled craftspeople from Italy to France, the authorities decided something had to be done. In the 17th century, the Venetian Senate proclaimed that workers who left the republic to practice their art were participating in a state crime. The decree also stated that if they did not return, their nearest of kin would be placed in prison. If they still did not return, to resume working in Venice, orders would be sent to kill the craftsmen – only once they were dead would their kin be released.
Fortunately, France’s lacemaking had become so widespread by this time, and local craftsmen had become so prolific at it, that the Italian workers were able to return swiftly, and safely, home. And so, lacemaking flourished all across Europe, and then made its way around the world, to the delight of one and all.