Bobbin lace, also known as Renda de Bilros, is an ex-libris of Portuguese textiles tradition, typically from fishing areas of the coast, especially in Vila do Conde and Peniche. The meticulously handcrafted technique of Bobbin lace is produced by the successive crossing or interspersed of textile yarns, executed on the pike and with the aid of pins and bobbins.
The origin of the handcrafted technique of Bobbin Lace takes us back to the ancient villages by the sea. At that time, the woman used to make this delicate lace when they weren’t helping men at fishing and agricultural activities, as a way to earn their living.
If we go further back in time, there is documentary evidence that at the 19th century Peniche already had eight private workshops. In this space children with at least eight years old were taught how to make this handcrafted pieces.
On 1887 was created the Industrial Design School of Rainha D. Maria Pia, leveraging the teaching of the handcrafted technique of Bilro Lace, with high-quality training. Nowadays this ancient art can be learnt at Bilro Lace Schools/Workshops from the municipality of Peniche, as the Association Peniche – Rendibilros and the Santa Maria Craftsmen Workshop.
Until this day, the legacy of Portuguese lace can be traced around the world. This is due to the Portuguese colonists exported the art of lacemaking, during the Age of Discovery, taking it to Sri Lanka in the 16th century and to Brazil in the 17th century.
Each region has its own method which makes this technique so unique. On Peniche we can find two types: bilro lace erudite and popular.
The differences are mainly found on the patterns: the first type has very elaborate drawings, with very complex and non-repetitive motives, demanding the use of a great variety of stitches and immense expertise. The second type has simpler drawings, has a usually repetitive motive, and uses simpler and more traditional stitches.
In Peniche is held annually a lacemaking festival, usually on the third Sunday of July. This event brings together enthusiasts from across the world.
In Vila do Conde, the lace industry, can be traced back to 1616 and it was an important source of income for the area in the 18th century.
This traditional lacework is also an important part of the historical heritage of Vila do Conde. At the Museum of Bobbin Lace from the city could be seen a collection of all kinds of instruments and materials used in the production of the art.
Besides that tools, can also be found beautiful examples of Bobbin Lace, drawings, pikes and various centenary documents, as well as an international section with lacework, pillow-lace and the handcrafted technique of Bobbin-lace from Europe and Brazil.
In 2015, Vila do Conde has created the largest piece of Bobbin lace ever recorded. The 53 square metres piece it has directly placed in the Guinness Book of Records. It was used 8 kilos of line with different colours and shapes. The 30×30 centimetres squares were produced by 150 women, of different ages, that know the old lacemaker art
This is one of the oldest and most intricate handcrafts in Portugal. So complex as exquisite, this ancient art was in decadence during the 20th Century.
Recently the handcrafted technique is becoming more popular than ever, with the appearance of even new designers. This new generation is getting to explore the heritage of Bobbin lacemaking and elevated the art, with reinterpretations of the delicate fabric.
Lately, the Portuguese Government started several programs aimed to maintain the industry and tradition of Lace of Bilros well alive for the next generations.
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