BOBBIN LACE MAKING ON GOZO

Last spring while we were visiting Gozo I discovered that there is a tradition of bobbin lace on the Maltese islands that is similar to our Flemish bobbin lace, and it was then that I made the decision that if we would find a flat and come here for the winter, I would join a lace making class. Some forty years ago I acquired a lace pillow and bobbins from a friend, I even learnt a little on how to use the bobbins, but alas life got in the way and I never really took it up as a hobby, still I did keep the pillow and the bobbins to this day, the pillow is back in Ireland, the bobbins I brought with me.

Here the people use an oblong type of pillow mostly, while ours is round. When we arrived here beginning of October I set out to find a class as planned, but soon realised that I was too late and all classes had been filled. While I was disappointed I just got on with my other interests and while walking, some weeks later, through the narrow streets of Rabat (the old part of Victoria)  I happen to see a woman sitting in her doorway and doing her lace, so I got chatting with her, she was called Victorina and she offered to talk to her teacher and ask if I could join her class, without further ado I spoke with her teacher, was accepted, bought my supplies and joined the class as a total beginner. I immediately found it a very peaceful activity and enjoyed it. Soon, after a few weeks the pattern became a little more difficult and concentration is needed very much. Last week I even had difficulty getting to grips with the complicated arrangement of stitches and design, but after undoing my work twice I got it – that is what is necessary in lace making, you got to ‘get’ it and then it is a piece of cake. Tying the weavers knot caused me some problems too, but after lots of practice, now I also got to grips with it. All in all it is good exercise for the brain as well as the hands and I love it.  I am enjoying very much the interaction with Gozitan women, though a lot of Malti is spoken, of which I love the sound, they are very encouraging and talk to me in English, I feel included among them.

Here is an 82 year old Gozitan woman who sits doing her lace, selling some of her work to tourists, her work is exquisite.

A little bit about the history of lace making in the Maltese islands.

During the sixteenth century, bobbin lace was brought to the Maltese islands it is believed to have been by the Knights of St.John, who had become familiar with it either in Flanders or Italy where beautiful bobbin lace was already being produced.  The Knights had learnt to use lace in the embellishment of their garments.  Bobbin lace became an import from Northern Europe, but soon the women of Malta and Gozo started to weave their own lace, a century later their lace had become the envy of the Italians and the Belgians.  On and off through the centuries lace making had its ups and downs, various people encouraged the making of it along the way.  Apparently around 1864 the Gozitan lace took a different turn from the Maltese lace, I read that it was based on a model of Genoese lace and that two Gozitan sisters copied the style and made it their own, so the Gozitan lace was probably based on lace from Genoa but the sisters then developed their own patterns and the lace produced as a result became Gozitan lace as we see it today.  According to one source Gozitan lace has more swirls in its design than the Genoese lace.

Lace making became more important as a means of helping to make a living during the 1860ies when many Gozitans suffered from poverty.  Lace was made at this time mainly in the home and by the family, mother and daughters would work together.  The lace produced then became used to barter for food.  Eventually lace making industries were set up by a parish priest,  Dun Guzepp Diacono.  These were set up in Xaghra and Victoria, which lie close together though they are different towns.  In these industrial houses classes in lace making were taught and more patterns were developed as time went by.  Lace in today’s economy of Gozo is mainly produced for the thriving tourist industry.  The lace is very beautiful and is mostly still produced by hand.  There is a lot more to say about Gozitan lace and its history and its modern economic value and use, I only wanted to give a little  information on it here. What most of the people here say when talking about the future of lace making, is that they are worried that it is a dying art as not many young people are taking it up.  At the same time it is being taught in the university as a two year course.  I do think it has a future, it is too beautiful an art to be lost and the Gozitans are actually very proud of their lace making.

Some examples of lace, and lace making here on Gozo.  To me what lace reminds me of is the intricate embellishments in the architecture of their cathedrals, it also reminds me of the beautiful honey coloured limestone when it has been eroded and is full of holes, a very lacy effect.

The Gozitans themselves also love lace and when I walk through any of the towns I constantly see lace being used to hang in front of doors presumably to keep flies out.  These curtain are nowadays often machine made though, like in the photos I put together in a collage.

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Some preparations and off to my first class where I was taught the cloth stitch in three different ways.  The linnen tread that we are using is Irish, believe it or not, it has been imported from Ireland.  It is a very strong and lovely tread to work with.

Some pictures of my first works, it is very easy to make a mistake by forgetting a stitch and only discovering a bit later and having to undo many stitches, and while that is pleasant enough work to do too, it does mess up the tread and makes it fluffy, so I try and concentrate real good.

My latest works, the patterns are getting just a little more complicated but also more interesting, what is interesting is how some basic stitches can be used to make an intricate pattern, and I am only in the very beginning right now.  Thursday is my next class and then we are packing up for Christmas.  I am already looking forward to starting up again in the new year.  I hope that before we return to Ireland I will be able to work away on my own and follow a pattern with ease.  There are, of course, some very good YouTube videos and websites to learn more about bobbin lace.

To help me in some of my research on the history I read this interesting work:  “Bobbin lace. it’s economic and social role on Gozo”  by Adrienne Foster and I also read a WordPress article at https://vassallohistory.wordpress.com/maltese-crafts/comment-page-1/#comment-14763, and I spoke with a variety of Gozitan lace makers and sellers over the months that I have been living here.

Last but not least I would like to show an example of Irish Carrickmacross lace which my sister Maria, who died of cancer when she was just 50, used to make, it is a very intricate lace embroidered on fine netting, I guess not easy to do.  Below are examples of what Maria made.  This is a totally different type of lace in comparison to Gozitan lace of course.

 

 

 

GGANTIJA TEMPLES

It has been quite a few days since I wrote in my blog, so now I am back and with pleasure. My sister was with us and we had so much to see and talk about that nothing came from writing. It was, of course, a very valuable time.

Gozo is still a place where, now after nearly two months I’m totally happy, relaxed, and feeling joy in everyday walking around the beautiful limestone houses, churches, other buildings and landscapes. The flowers, plants and insects are very attractive to me and to learn about them is a delight. The people are friendly and very nice. I have now attended two of my pillow lace making classes and have become friendly with the women there, delightful, and I just totally adore making the lace – well that is to say – learning the first stitches. It is a very relaxing activity and the work is beautiful to look at.

With December coming up there is a lot of activity planned by the local people to celebrate Christmas, religion is still very much part of it, which is only normal in my view and it is refreshing not to be in a total commercial way of celebrating Christmas. It is warm, feels like it is around 20C and sometimes over 20C. We have had thunder storms and one week of much needed rain, you could see the fields becoming greener as the days went by. Now I see farmers tending to their vegetable plots.

I cannot help taking photos, some of which I hope to use in starting to draw in pencil, and I like to share them too. This place is a photographer’s paradise if you are interested in architecture – which I am too. But also if you just like to document the local flora and fauna. I know that in the coming month I will have the opportunity to photograph people at their festivals and that too will be interesting.

And so I will share our last day together. My sister and I delighted as we visited the ancient temples in Xaghra and walked for two hours around that really charming town. We had a lovely lunch in the square as well. And we descended 10 meters down into the earth to look at caves, it was a strange feeling being in the bowels of the earth, very strange and my first time being in such a low cave, our heads nearly touching the ceilings.

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Man selling little jars of Carob syrup or honey on the way to the  temples.

Views of the Ggantija temples which date back to between 3600 and 3200 B.C.  The outer shell of the temples has been well preserved because it has been made from Coralline limestone which is hardwearing, while the inner structures like doors or altars had been made in the softer Globigerina limestone.

Lunch at a nice little eating place near the church and in the square was delicious.  We walked for hours along the narrow roads of this town, we saw beautiful lacy curtains on the double doors which is traditional here.  I love the arches, the different features in the architecture of the houses, and the use of a little colour is striking as seen in the blue paint on the gold stone.  Often people may be sitting on a bench or chairs and enjoying the peace of the place here in Gozo.  My sister Josefine posing near a beautiful historical door.

Inside the caves.  Though fascinating it is not totally my cup of tea, I was too aware of being so deep underground.

We came across this man making his lace.  My teacher later told me that he is the only ‘man’ in Gozo that makes lace.  His work was so very neat!

And this are the leaves, bark, fruit, and flower of the Carob tree (Ceratonia silique), and evergreen tree the pods of which are used here to make a syrup used for cough and sore throats.  Originally also used as animal fodder, the tree belongs to the pea family.

I hope to be back now to writing as I have so much to share of this amazing place.  All my senses are at top performance to take it all in and reflecting on it is what my blog at the moment is all about.  I hope my friends and followers will enjoy some of it too.