old lady hand crafting maltese lace

Lacemaking In Malta

  • Mar 21, 2020

Handcrafted Maltese lace is a much sought-after tourist souvenir...

Lacemaking is one of Malta’s most famous arts, and handcrafted Maltese lace is a much sought-after tourist souvenir. Although the number of local people skilled in lacemaking has declined, Maltese lace still remains exceptionally popular today. There has recently been a revival of the craft for leisure, with the craft being taught in some schools, and specialist workshops from the Malta Lace Guild, plus an annual Lace Day at the Gozo campus of the University of Malta.

What is special about Maltese lace?

Malta has of course been influenced by many cultures; Arabic, British, French, Italian, Spanish. Lace patterns have evolved from these influences, but one of the most recognisable patterns includes the eight-pointed Maltese Cross, made from cream-coloured Spanish silk. The Maltese Cross is symbolic of Maltese lace and its specialist techniques. Thanks to Queen Victoria, Maltese lace, admired for its quality and attention to detail, rose to global fame in THE 19th Century when she exhibited it in London. The Queen Victoria statue in Valletta commemorates her love of Maltese lace and its place in history, as it depicts her with a lace shawl over her lap.

When did lacemaking in Malta begin?

“Bizilla” is one of Malta’s oldest traditions, brought to Malta in the 17th Century by The Knights of St John. During the 1600s, it was the fashion for noblemen and the clergy to wear clothing decorated with handcrafted bobbin lace. Lace was also popular for decorating furniture, and in wedding ceremonies.

Maltese women and children learned the art of lacemaking so that they could sell their crafts to raise money for their families, and lacemaking was even taught in one orphanage in Gozo to help raise funds and boost the popularity of lace products. It was not uncommon to see women sitting on the doorsteps of traditional Maltese homes in the cobbled streets of Malta’s towns working on lace patterns in the Mediterranean sun; it might not be so popular a hobby now, but in the quieter parts of Gozo where the distractions of modern life are yet to set in, you may still see groups of women working on their art.

What are some popular Maltese lace products?

Tablecloths are the most popular items of Maltese lace, probably due to their practicality and decorative value. They can be used in any room of the house to add a pretty feature. Shawls and lace jackets are popular too, although these can be fragile and tend to be more decorative or kept for very special occasions. Lace trims for bridal dresses and christening dresses are also still popular, as are collars and sleeves. An affordable and useful item for tourists is a lace fan, usually bought on impulse to wave away the heat, later to be displayed on a wall at home.

As you explore Malta and its historical sites such as the cathedrals and museums, you will see some beautiful examples of traditional Maltese lace making. You can spot it in traditional cafés, restaurants and hotels too, such as Casa Ellul, a modern boutique hotel which celebrates traditional Maltese art and architecture by pairing it with contemporary luxuries.