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  • Writer's pictureSandra Cesca

Greece and the Making of Lace

While strolling along the narrow streets of Mykonos a couple years ago, I happened on this elderly lady making lace on her balcony. She was so focused on her work I didn’t have the heart to interrupt her. So, I took this picture in hopes I could tell what she was making. I have always loved lace. It has an aura of mystery, beauty, aristocracy, and elegance. Intrigued by this photo, I did a little research into the history of Greek lace.

Lace was first developed in Europe during the sixteenth century. The preeminent lacemaking centers were established in Flanders, France, and Italy, particularly on the Venetian island of Burano. Venice was not only a busy trade center during this time, but the first published books on lace patterns by Tagliente in 1527 and Le Pompe in the 1550’s detail early Italian lace designs.

Historically, true lace was created when a thread was looped, braided, or twisted to other threads independently from a fabric in one of two ways: (1) a needle, using variations of the buttonhole stitch, known as needle lace or needlepoint lace; (2) with bobbins, by twisting and weaving a large number of threads, each wound onto and weighted by a bobbin, pined on a stuffed pillow or cushion, known as bobbin lace or pillow lace.

Lace thread was typically made from linen, and later silk or metallic gold threads, followed by cotton in the nineteenth century. Needle and bobbin laces were often named after the region or town where they were made such as Venetian or Flemish lace. The word “lace” comes from Old French meaning noose or string. During the era of kings and queens, lace clothing and accessories such as cravats, handkerchiefs, parasols, and gloves were considered the only fabric that represented both chastity and debauchery according to the author of an interesting article I found on the psychology of lace. “… because its pattern, placement, and color reveal and/or imply more about the wearer than any other fabric.”

So how did Greece begin the making of lace? It is speculated that, since part of the Greek Islands, the Ionians, were under Venetian rule from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, lace made its way there through trading and fashion. Since Greek lace is one of the earliest forms of needle lace, there are many different variations difficult to distinguish. Typically, Greek designs were of rigid geometrical patterns and used for the decoration of ecclesiastical vestments and altar cloths.

Going back to my Greek lady, it appears she is using the original needle technique, with a pattern possibly attached to a pillow on her lap as has been popular in the islands. Walking further around Mykonos and later Rhodes, I became more aware of lovely old lace curtains usually white to set off the traditional blue finish of windows and doors.

Today the lace of Greece is mostly handmade using cotton thread, although linen and silk threads are still available, and used for window treatments, added details on clothing…see the collar and cuffs of the Mykonos lady…and trimming on white cotton skirts, dresses, and shirts as seen in the photo of the shop I visited on Santorini. Machine made lace, especially for clothing and large pieces for interior decorating, is also evident in Greece but usually comes from Italy where lace factories using synthetic materials are popular. As for me, I much prefer the handmade lace for its more personal and historic feel and artisanal quality and authenticity. To really see lace makers at work, visit the island of Burano in the Venice lagoon. It is most fascinating.

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