One of the most famous legends about Burano narrates that an ancient betrothed fisherman, while he was fishing outside the lagoon, in the east sea, hold up to a siren who tried to entice him by her canto. So he received a gift from sirens' queen, enchanted by his faithfulness: the siren thumped the side of the boat by her tall, creating a foam from which a wedding veil developed.
Came back home opportune in the day of marriage, he gave the gift to his fiancée. She was admired and envied from all the young ladies of the island, whereupon they begin to imitate the lace of the wedding veil employing needle-and-thread more and more thin, hoping to create a even more beautiful lace for their wedding dresses.
The first laces date back to 1500 and initially their workmanship taked place in posh houses, employing needle-and-thread without a canvass as prop. Here the “punto in aria” combined with geometrical designs, flowers, animals, and spirals took place.
In the ‘600 it began to embroider using “punto a crocette”, worked by small flying flowers and the “punto controtagliato”, used for large and in relief billows in necklines. Soon these embroideries spread in Europe and Burano’s lacemakers were invited even in France to start an important lace production.
France became a terrible contender for the lacemakers of the island, even if it was unable to produce embroideries as refined as Burano’s ones.
Principally the lace workmanship was taking place inside the “Scuola Merletti” (Lace School). Today noteworthy works are exposed in a historical building located in the square of Burano, the “Lace Museum”.
Unfortunately, after the decline of the Serenissima Republic, lace workmanship fell down.
At the end of the 19th century, thanks to the propaganda of Ms Cencia Scarpariola (a well-known lacemaker of Burano whose name was assigned to a street in the island), a new lace age began and new stitches were introduced, so that the embroideries became out-and-out artworks.
For the creation of a lace more than five steps were necessary, which are still now made by five persons. Every lacemaker was assigned to the step which she was good at (even if she knew all the stitches), so that the work was as profitable as possible, since that it was a piecework.
There was ladies responsible for the designs, others for the neckline, i.e. the step in which the lace design is fixed on the fabric and paper layers; it acted as woof on which the first lacemaker, after the fabric was attached to the lace pillow, performed the “ghipur” or “punto Burano” (the stitch of Burano) on the whole drawing. Then the other lacemakers carried out the “sbarri”, the “punto rete” and in the end the relief which emphasized the trim size. As latest thing the lace was pinched from the paper cutting all the seams and all the superfluous yarns were accurately removed by tweezers.
In the first years of ‘900, the lace was made by a smaller number of ladies than in the 16th century, because the young girls found work in “Murano’s conterie” and in small venetian sartorial labs, where they gained more money.
Nei primi del 1900 la maggior parte delle signore di Burano iniziavano da piccole il lavoro di merlettaie perchè, non frequentando la scuola, trascorrevano il loro tempo assieme alle madri che insegnavano loro quest'arte.
Entravano giovanissime alla Scuola Merletti all'età di soli 12-13 anni: qui venivano insegnati a loro i punti fondamentali.
La scuola merletti era gestita dalle suore dell'isola che si occupavano sia dell'insegnamento, sia della vendita del prodotto finito.
A causa dell'istruzione molto rigida, non tutte le ragazze frequentavano la scuola, ma ugualmente continuavano a svolgere il loro lavoro a casa venendo pagate a cottimo.
Le giovani donne cominciavano a ricamare verso le otto del mattino sedendosi con il loro tombolo davanti alla finestra più luminosa della casa, staccavano dieci minuti per pranzare e ricominciavano fino a che la luce permetteva ad esse di vedere con chiarezza i punti, perché un lavoro poco preciso non sarebbe stato facile da vendere.
La maggior parte delle case fino agli anni '50, non aveva l'illuminazione e il riscaldamento, mentre la Scuola Merletti oltre ad offrire una paga giornaliera che bastava per comperare ciò di cui le famiglie avevano bisogno, garantiva un calore continuo poichè ognuna delle lavoratrici, al mattino, portava con sé un ceppo, così da far rimanere il camino acceso durante l'arco dell'intera giornata.
Con la bella stagione, le merlettaie si ritrovavano a ricamare nei campielli sedute una affianco all'altra e chiacchieravano in compagnia.
La luce era più intensa e favoriva la creazione del merletto senza forzare più di tanto gli occhi.
Le ricamatrici più abili inoltre venivano chiamate a fare dimostrazioni nelle botteghe artigiane dell’isola e i turisti allora come oggi rimanevano affascinati dalla destrezza con cui le mani delle merlettaie maneggiavano ago e filo.
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