CharacteristicsStraight bobbin lace, worked in strips and joined together Usually using silk threads in cream, ivory or black-more recently in cotton Uniform threads with no gimp or raised work Designs: geometric and repetitive Clothwork pattern areas, usually including the Maltese Cross Frequent use of fat wheat-ears with pointed ends,(point desprit) often grouped in star formations resembling tiny stylized flowers Grounds: varied arrangements of twisted and plaited brides combined with wheatears.
A hand made bobbin lace
- Straight bobbin lace – worked in strips and joined together.
- Usually using silk threads in cream, ivory or black – also in cotton.
- Uniform threads – no gimp or raised work.
- Grounds: varied arrangements of twisted and plaited brides.
- Designs: geometric and repetitive.
- Clothwork pattern areas, usually including the Maltese Cross.
- Use of fat ‘wheatears’ with pointed ends, often grouped in star formations or like tiny stylized flowers.
Since the 16th C, needle laces were made in the Malta and Gozo. In the 1830s Malta was suffering from famine. Queen Adelaide, wife of William IV, went to Malta and there she not only built an Anglican church but also introduced the making of Maltese bobbin lace by bringing in teachers from Genoa. [Reigate p 208].
Other sources, including Pat Earnshaw [p 107], state that it was Lady Hamilton Chichester who brought lacemakers from Genoa to Malta.
In 1833 Lady Hamilton Chichester, who had been living in Malta, worked with Lady Sarah Austin to revive lace making by providing new patterns that appealed to the contemporary market. [Azzopardi p 27] It is believed that it was Lady Chichester who suggested the addition of the Maltese Cross to distinguish the Maltese lace from that of Genoa for the locals and tourists. The Cross was the emblem of the Knights of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem – the ‘Hospitallers’ – who wore the Maltese Cross as their badge, since the First Crusade to the Holy Land in 1090s.
After the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1851, Maltese lace flourished – flounces, fichus, collars, jabots and huge triangular shawls worn over the wide crinoline dresses. Queen Victoria was a great admirer of Maltese Lace.
After 1851, the English Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire lace manufacturers copied and adapted this lace and the product was called Bedfordshire / Maltese. Generally none of these laces included the Maltese Cross.
Good machine copies were available from 1865.
The disappearance of lace from dress in WWI marked the end of the lace industries in Europe. However the Maltese lace industry survived on a reduced scale by supplying lace for the British troops stationed on the island, a British Naval base in the Mediterranean, and to the tourist trade which followed.
Between the two World Wars, a great deal of household lace – dressing table sets, place mats etc, in white and ecru cotton were made and imported into Britain along with thousands of lace hankies with skimpy Maltese lace edgings. By the 1970s the standard had deteriorated so much that Maltese lace bore little resemblance to that of a hundred years before.
The technique was copied throughout Europe and Asia – Ceylon, Madras in India – brought by the missionaries.
In 1996 a lace making programme was set up at the University of Malta-Gozo Centre to promote quality Maltese lace and in 2000 the Malta Lace Guild was established. [Azzopardi p 28]
Earnshaw, P A Dictionary of Lace, Aylesbury, Shire publications, 1982
Reigate, E An Illustrated Guide to Lace, Antique Collectors’ Club, Suffolk, 1988
Azzopardi, C Gozo Lace – A Introduction to lacemaking in the Maltese Islands
www.nanopdf.com/download/contents-5b14013d9625d_pdf Azzopardi, C. ‘Lacemaking in Malta’, The Gozo
Observer, no.16, June 2007, pp. 27-28.
Earnshaw, P. A Dictionary of Lace, Shire publications, 1982
Gwynne, Judyth, The Illustrated Dictionary of Lace, Batsford, 1997
Toomer, H. LACE: A Guide To Identification Of Old Lace Types & Techniques
Batsford, London, 1989. IBSN 0 7134 5701 5.
© Valerie Cavill