For his smallest work, seen by some as the greatest masterpiece in the history of painting, Johannes Vermeer chose a lace-maker as his subject.
His model, working with the aid of pins, threads and bobbins, seems to let herself be observed, concentrating, lost in her own world of this daily activity full of virtue and morality. Like a number of women through the ages and down the generations, this young woman, from the 17th century, worked lace as a hobby.
But a lace-maker can also work professionally, which involves hand working lace destined for the most part for haute-couture, art or for collections in specialised institutions. “Ordinary”, industrial lace is mostly produced today with the help of machines which make the work much quicker and cheaper. The craftsmen and women who work with lace have become much rarer but they stand out by the quality and precision in their final product.
The lace-maker creates and fills spaces, creating patterns from one piece of textile. To achieve these patterns using varying techniques she uses needles, crochet hooks and bobbins, as well as the threads which she patiently and precisely knots and crosses, to transpose a preparative drawing traced on paper into textile.
A precious piece of craft heritage, the art of lace-making has been preserved and encouraged by various associations and organisations : the Ateliers nationaux du Puy et d’Alençon and the Fédération française des dentelles et broderies in France, the International Lace Festival in Croatia, the Kiskunhalas Lace Museum in Hungry, the Lace Museum & Guild in California, the Museo del Merletto in Venice, the Kantcentrum in Bruges, the Sheelin Antique Irish Lace museum in Ireland, and even more lacemaking clubs spread around the world.