Visitors to Belgium Can View Samples of Lace and Its Making

By Caroline Scutt

Reed Travel Features

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Although garments adorned with Belgian lace were the rage in Europe during the 1700s, contemporary visitors clamor to purchase tablecloths, napkins and even framed flowers made of the intricate white fabric. As early as the 1500s, women throughout Belgium were engaged in the craft, and lace was exported to well-to-do families throughout Europe. Their handiwork was worn by the world's rich and famous, but lace makers weren't paid well and worked in damp, dark cellars, which was good for the thread but not for the women.

Today, there are about 1,000 lace makers in Belgium, and visitors shouldn't expect to find any lace factories in Brussels or Bruges. However, several museums house exhibits of lace, and a few places exist where visitors still can see the craft practiced. The Beguine Convent in Bruges, for example, is located in an area where, weather permitting, women can be found sitting outside, working the threads into intricate patterns. The convent dates to 1245 and once was home to a monastic order. The Beguines are long gone, but the Benedictine nuns who have been here since 1927 live in the original houses. A small museum depicts how the Beguines lived and worked. Admission is about $1.80 per adult.

The Arents House (also known as the Brangwyn Museum) is a fine, late-18th century town house in Bruges. The ground floor of the Arents House is home to the Lace Museum, with its extensive and varied collection of old needlepoint and mixed lace. Most of the exhibits were produced at Flemish lace-making centers like Bruges, Mechelen (Malines) and Brussels, but foreign lace from places like France and Venice also is featured in the collection. A series of fascinating paintings illustrates the use of lace as a costume decoration over the years. A special exhibition, "Lace in Europe," will be held Sept. 20 through Nov. 29. Admission is about $2.50 per person.

The Kantcentrum (Lace Center) features lace-making demonstrations. For visitors interested in giving lace making a try, the center has a shop offering all the materials needed. Admission is about $1.25 per person.

In Brussels, the Museum of Costumes and Lace displays a variety of items, including a bedspread that belonged to Emperor Charles VI. The museum's collections illustrate the fashion in Brussels and Europe from the 17th century to the present. Admission is about $2.50 per person.

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