The needlepoint lace called merletto, Italian for netting or mesh, is an ancestral technique that was born in the 11th century on the island of Burano, near Venice, before beginning to be popularized in the 15th century.
Legend has it that to achieve this fine network of threads, the seamstresses were inspired by an aquatic plant populating the Venetian waters, named trina delle sirene: mermaids’ lace.
The lace of Burano has its origins in embroidery. The merletto inspired the “point cut,” or punto tagliato in Italian, which plays with reliefs and transparency. The point of Burano is also called “the point in the air” (punto in aria) and allows for the creation of figural motifs, flowers, people and animals, as well as arabesques. The lace-makers work with a needle, resting their hands on a cylindrical cushion.
While their husbands were fishing at sea, wives spent their time with “women’s work.” Lace soon became a principal occupation for these women.
Unlike the glassblowers from the neighboring island of Murano who have formed guilds, the lace-makers practice their art alone in their own homes.
Venice became, then, a hotbed of creation and production of needlepoint lace. This precious textile decoration came to adorn the dresses and draperies of Venetian nobility, ornamenting wedding dresses and parasols as well as bedspreads and everything else composing royal outfits.
In 1870, Michelangelo Jesurum opened the Manifattura Veneziana dei Merletti, a workshop and school in Burano, in order to teach the art of needlepoint lacework, making this expertise the principle economic resource of the island. More than a hundred laborers worked there in 1875, so as to meet the orders placed by so many figures of European aristocracy. The production of merlotto continued to grow until World War I; thereafter it was met with a gradual decline and the workshop closed in 1972.
The Museum of Lace opened its doors in 1981, in the former school of Burano. Still today the lace-makers of the island continue to meet daily in one of the rooms reserved for them in the museum. They can thus continue to create lace under the curious and attentive gaze of passing visitors.