“Look,” says Davide Bressanello, owner of one of the oldest lace shops on Burano, Dalla Lidia Merletti d’Arte. “My mother made this Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci in lace. It took her one year. It’s impossible to sell it at the price it is really worth, as so many hours go into this.”
Bressanello’s shop, which is right in the middle of Burano, a colorful island in Venice, was started by his great grandmother. “In those times it was, what they called, a school. This meant that a few ladies would get together every day and make lace. There were no shops on the island, and everything they made, was done on commission. The inhabitants of Burano still do this. When they need something in lace, they have someone from the family or another lace maker, do it for them. “
However, Bressanello’s grandfather had the idea to covert the school into a real shop, complete with products that clients can buy. And that is what it is today, a shop full of bed spreads, linen, houseware, handkerchiefs and everything else you can imagine in all kinds of styles. “People who have traditional furniture know that lace is good to have, but many young people think it’s something of the past. So we show them that lace can fit with a modern interior also,” he told hiEurope, showing an Ikea-like pillowcase adorned with a piece of lace, and a modern statue, violin and shoes.
The island of Burano used to be a remote village, where the men used to go out and fish and the women stayed home and made lace. The women’s work became popular as early as the 1500’s, when the wife of one of the Doge’s discovered it. Soon over 130 lace makers were employed to decorate the lady’s palace and wardrobe, but she also sent lace as gifts to the most prestigious European courts on special occasions. The French loved it, and Louis XIV, King of France, reportedly wore an original and precious Burano lace collar during his coronation, which took two years to make. Lace making is too time consuming to become an industry, but to this day, the women on Burano continue to make their products.
At Dalla Lidia, visitors can see their work through the ages in an impressive lace collection at the back. Bressanello is like a walking encyclopedia, showing his visitors what is special about lace of a certain period. For instance the pieces from the 1850’s, when for 80 years the lace makers made flowers that really opened up, and for unknown reasons stopped doing it. “My great grandfather started this collection, and my father continued it. He travelled all over Europe and bought these pieces, often at flea markets for next to nothing, “ Bressanello told hiEurope.
Another master piece on display is a complete lace wedding dress from the 18th century, made for a ‘very important person”, which would be too expensive to produce nowadays. There is even one of Napoleon’s handkerchiefs, embroidered with his emblem. “Look at the treads they used in those times,” Bressanello says, showing the fine work through a magnifying glass. “They were ten times thinner than what we use now and at that time lace makers only had natural light to work by.”
Having grown up among lace and selling it, Bressanello recently decided to learn the stitches himself. “It’s not that it’s difficult, it’s just that it takes time to be fast,” he says. “It’s something you should learn when you are young, and your eyes are still good, so that when you are old, you know where to go.”
The island of Burano is known for the pastel colors of the houses. Originally, they were colored by the fishermen so to be recognizable in winter from far away, even with fog. Soon, this custom became very popular all over the island and today colors are used to mark off properties.