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
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.