While waiting for my many new to me Vintage Applique Quilt Kits to arrive and be listed, I thought I’d ramble on about one of my side interests:

For many years now, I have picked up bits of vintage handmade lace here and there, enchanted with the delicacy of the designs and workmanship, and respectful of the women’s history embodied in many of the artisanal textile activities like lacemaking.

By chance I came upon pictures of Maltese women making lace, and saw more when I asked a relative living there to keep her eye out for information on lacemaking. I have also acquired many nice small pieces of Maltese lace and a little more knowledge about what sets it apart from lace made in other parts of Europe.

Malta, Comino, and Gozo are the main islands of the Republic of Malta which is located in the Mediteranean Sea south of Sicily and northwest of Tunisia. It’s strategic position in the middle of the ancient ”inner sea” has made it a crossroads of cultures since pre-historic times, and during this millenium it acted as a base for the crusades and the order of St.John of Jerusalem, and as an Arabic possession; still later it belonged to Italy, then France and from Napoleonic times well into this century was a strategic base for the British first as a waypost to Egypt and India and a coaling station for steamships; and then later while fighting World War 2, as a base from which to retake Northern Africa, Greece and Italy.

Left: a modern day re-enactment of a 16th century Maltese wedding.

                         Right: Maltese lacemaker early 20th century

During the Italian period, during which time lacemaking became a lucrative artisanal activity for many European women, groups of Maltese women were trained to make exquisite lace in their homes to help supply the men and women of upper class Europe with the new fashion adornment. The Industrial Revolution did not affect Malta to any great extent, and lacemaking was not mechanized there as it was in France and England in the nineteenth century.

As time went on, lace adorned clothing and various household pieces continued to be prized and treasured, and because of their ease of transport beame a favoured souvenir to take home after tours and visits, and a logical gift for servicemen to send their womenfolk back home in Britain.

There are many qualities of lace available today – the most prized of which are made using silk thread or linen thread; and fine silk broadcloth or very fine cotton cambric as the background fabric of choice on handkerchiefs and tablemats. A common feature of Maltese lace is the use of the traditional Maltese cross.
Some table linens and doilies appear to be currently made in the far east and are billed as “vintage Maltese lace” but are clearly of inferior design and quality.

In the last ten years or so, concomitant with the rise in tourism, the Maltese government has begun to support the various artisan disciplines by formal training and apprenticeships and with support for small businesses with help in marketing arts and crafts. It is hoped that a resurgence in popularity of traditional crafts will keep them from disappearing.

I have included a few pictures and a map to help in visualizing life on a very warm and very lovely island.

My next post will show you some examples of various pieces of lace I have acquired and will be offering for sale.


  • Sandra Henderson:

    This is wonderfully written! May I please post a link to your wonderful article?!?!! SO INTERSTING!
    I've missed visiting you… Not enough hours in the day! Thank you stopping by to see me today, as this made me put all else aside for now to come catch up with you. :) Hope your spring is coming along nicely. Still enjoying the Halls Harbour Webcam!My husband loves for me to show him also!

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