Pellestrina: The Other Lace Island
Every year hundreds of thousands of tourists take the Vaporetto to visit Venice’s charming Lace Island, Burano, with its brightly coloured houses and excellent museum. As soon as you get off the ferry, as a tourist you are immediately wrapped up in all things lacey form scarves to lace parasols, and it seems that you have landed in the heart of the Venetian lace world. But Venetian lace has two hearts; one of needle lace and the other of bobbin lace which is to be found on the extraordinary island of Pellestrina.
The Island forms the southwestern boundary of the Venetian lagoon, running between the Lido and Chioggia on the mainland, it is 11 km long, only 23m wide at its narrowest point and 1200m at its widest. Arriving there is a great adventure which I love; across the lagoon by ferry and then the long trip on the number 11 bus along the Lido and over the water with another ferry to the long, narrow island of Pellestrina.
Historically, Pellestrina has always been the bobbin lace centre of Venice. As in many places where lace is traditionally made, the economy of the island is based on fishing and boat building, and lace making was a good source of additional income over the centuries. In the 19th century the tradition (which had waned over time) was revived at a commercial level by Michelangelo Jesurum. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries Pellestrina was particularly well known for their polychrome silk bobbin laces such as this example which is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
The Cultural Association which continues the local lace making tradition is called “Il Murazzo” after the great wall which protects the island from the Adriatic on its western side. It is an interesting choice of name as, while it does not specifically reference lace, it does give a sense of strength and solidity, protecting and conserving the lace making culture of the island for future generations. The association has been working to promote lace making on the Island for over 40 years and are an important part of the community, involving many of the island’s inhabitants in their projects such as teaching lace making to children at the local elementary school, or, in 2007 making the world’s longest lace, a 450m lace “portrait” of the island including each of the churches and neighbourhoods of Pellestrina; a project which involved over 300 lace makers.
Arriving at the association we were greeted by the head of the lace group, Signora Leda, a wonderful woman with a true passion for lace making and her home island. A small group of lace makers had gathered to meet us and it was beautiful (as always) to see how a common love of lace can transcend the boundaries of language and culture. The participants of this year’s Lace in Italy tour chatted with the Pellestrina lace makers, sharing ideas and email addresses. The group is very open to exchange with other lace making groups and interested in exchanging patterns and even bobbins and pillows! They have a number of lace pillows from other countries including Spain and Belgium, and they make a variety of bobbin laces, from their local “Pompe” as published by the Sessa brothers in 1557, to their own original designs. It was a lovely visit.
We were also very happy to learn that this summer the lace traditions of both Pellestrina and Burano have been included in the campaign to have Italy's lace traditions recognised by UNESCO, this would be a wonderful recognition of the cultural importance and long history of lace making in the Venitian Lagoon and we will follow their campaign and keep you posted. Shortly after the good news of the presentation for UNESCO recognition, however, the association received its eviction notice from the parish where it has been housed for over 40 years, we all wish them the best of luck for finding a new space for their school and collection.
Many thanks to Signora Leda for organising our visit, meeting with the lace makers was again a very special experience.