A collection of invoices

At the time Brussels lace reached its zenith in the 18th century, Rocq Gandussi, a Brussels maker with Italian origins, ran a booming lace business situated "in front of the Conseil d’Egmont au sablon". He enjoyed an international clientele.

The collection of copies of invoices opposite shows an order for more than 200 pieces for Prince Charles of Neuberg at Breslau. Shirts, corsets, headdresses (made up of a crown, and various barbs and frills) and night caps for ladies, shirts, cravats, lappets, night caps for men, frills of various widths for men and women intended to decorate toilets, sheets, etc. The complete order, for a total price of 15,357 florins and 8 sols, was delivered in 17 containers between 11 February and 25 March, and 14 October and 9 December 1701.

Collection of invoices from lacemakers R. Gandussi and J. Devos. 1698-1746. Brussels. City Brussels’ Archives, Archives Anciennes, 3198.

A collection of invoices


The fine lace

“From Lisle I came to Brussels, where most of the fine lace are made you seen worn in England.”

Lord Chesterfield, 1741

Lappets, Second quarter of the 18th century, Bobbin lace made using the part-lace technique
The fine lace


Diderot and d'Alembert


Work in gold, silver, silk or linen thread, etc., made on a pillow with a large number of small bobbins, a design traced on paper or conceived from the imagination, and two types of pins […].

The first thing to do is to find a pillow. The globe-shaped pillow is flattened at the ends, with one end having a diameter of between 10 and 12 inches, and the other end 12 to 14 inches. The stuffing is cotton, wool or any other material which a pin can easily pierce; and the pillow case is a strong and well-stretched canvas, which will hold the pins straight and firm when pierced.

There then needs to be a green velvet edging, between 7 and 8 lines wider than the lace which will be produced.

The pins, which are made of brass, some of which are small and some larger. These pins need to be flexible, enough to give slightly under the movement of the bobbins and prevent the thread from breaking too often; but firm enough to hold the threads in the place where they need to be, and give the points the desired regular form.

A lot of small bobbins. There are three parts to these bobbins, the shank, the long neck, and the head: the shank AB, which resembles an elongated pear, which is held by the maker, and which is used to move the bobbin: the long neck BC which is above the shank and is in the form of a small bobbin, and has the same function: the head CD, which also has the function of a bobbin and is in the same shape, but whose length is so small in comparison with that of the long neck that it looks more like a groove or a trough.

A pattern. This is a kind of bracelet onto which the lace to be produced is attached, and which is fixed to the pillow, so that the template is always visible.

The small scissors, which are unremarkable.

The casseaux. These are small pieces of extremely thin horns; they are the height and measurement of the long neck of the bobbin: they are sewn at their two ends and form small holders with which the thread is covered which is wrapped around the bobbin, to prevent it losing its elasticity.

A lace maker does not require any other tools: depending on the extent she loves her craft, there may be slight variations; her pillow is more elegant, her bobbins are more delicate, her scissors more elaborate. But with the small amount of tools I have just described, and in the way I described them, it is possible to create the most beautiful and lavish lace.

Diderot and d'Alembert


Testimonials Calderwood

« A great part of their work is grounding lace. The manufactory of the lace is very curious; one person works the flowers, and they are all sold separate, and you will see a very pretty sprig which the worker gets but twelvepence for working. The merchants have all these people imployed, gives them the thread to make them, then they lay them according to a pattern, and give them out to be grounded; after this they give them to a third hand, who hearts all the flowers with the open work: this is what makes that lace so much dearer than the Mechline, which is wrought all at once. »
In a collection of journals and letters, Mrs Calderwood relates her journey from Scotland to Belgium. Visiting the Beguinage in Brussels, she describes lace work.

Margaret Steuart Calderwood, Letters and journals of Mrs Calderwood of Polton, from England, Holland and the Low Countries in 1756

Crown of bonnet and matching lappets - ca1760. Bobbin lace made using the part-lace technique. Drochel ground

Testimonials Calderwood


Book of patterns

The lace makers are not the only people involved in the process of creating lace. The pattern makers interpret the basic design by perforating it, in order to make a pattern which can be made in lace. They also show the lace makers where to place their pins.
The collection opposite belonged to the Beguine Barbara Marquart, who was probably an expert pattern maker and lace maker. They contain 73 patterns affixed and numbered from 541 to 613, most of which are perforated. The names of 55 lace makers are shown who are capable of creating lace, as well as the addresses of some of them in Brussels.  There is also an indication of the base layer to use, including drasel (or drochel).

Pattern book having belonged to Barbara Marquarter, ‘begeyntje’. 1760. City Brussels’ Archives, Archives Anciennes, 2619.

Book of patterns


Pattern garnish 1878

The lace designs, the main focus of attention of the maker, needed to be impeccable and continually renewed. In Brussels, merchants used the services of designers whose reputation spread far and wide.

Opposite, a pattern from the Maison Van Echel (Brussels lace maker between 1868 and 1920) for a dress decoration. Traces in blue ink determined the motifs to be divided up between the various lace makers. The Maison Van Echel was supplier to Her Majesty the Queen of Belgium, as well as the courts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Germany and Spain.

Pattern for a gown trimming. 1878, Crayon on tracing paper, 121,5 x 31,5 to 71 cm. Fashion and Lace Museum, D 88.78.01 (gift of Sister G. Bascour).

Pattern garnish 1878


The art of maintaining lace

How to wash ordinary lace.
Take a cylindrical bottle, roll the lace around the cylindrical part, then, when it is completely wrapped, cover it with some white muslin, and attach it at several points.

Then prepare enough water in a pot to completely submerge the bottle. (It is a good idea to put some gravel in the bottle to prevent it from being tossed about too much by the boiling.) Add a small amount of household soap, and if the lace is very soiled, a pinch of soda. Place the pot with cold water on the hob, with the bottle covered with the lace, and boil it for about an hour.

When the water has become dirty, replace it and repeat this process as often as it takes to obtain clean residual water. The lace will then be clean, and after having run it under cold water several times, still on the bottle, in order to remove the soap, remove it and dry it.

Thérèse de Dillmont, Encyclopédie des ouvrages de dames , 1886?

Triangular shawl ca 1870-1890

Bobbin lace and needlepoint appliqué on Brussels net. 

The art of maintaining lace


Advertisement card

At the start of the 20th century, there were fewer and fewer lace makers in Brussels. Whereas there were around 10,000 in the 17th century, there were only 4,000 in 1846, and 200 in 1900.

Advertisement card of the lace factory Vandevelde-Geurs, St Gudule place 6-7, Brussels. Around 1900.
City Brussels’ Archives.
Advertisement card


Brussels point

“Flanders, which up until that point had worked much more with bobbin lace than needlelace, also started to copy Alençon. At Brussels, points were made with a needle which had less reliefs and firmness than those from Alençon, but which were often even finer. Belgium produced linen threads which were superior in terms of finesse… We understand that with such excellent materials, we needed to work lace of an incredible finesse: in those days, we combined a delicacy and finish which were one of the triumphs of Brussels point.”

Mrs L. de Laprade, Le poinct de France et les centres dentelliers aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles (French point and the lace making centres of the 17th and 18th centuries), Paris, Rothschild, 1905

Bride’s veil early 20 th century
Bobbin lace appliqué on Brussels net with some details and motifs in needlepoint. 
Brussels point


Course of lace 1923

Tante Eddy, « Notre cours d’ouvrages de dames. La Dentelle aux fuseaux », Les Dimanches de la femme, supplement Mode du jour, August 19th, 1923, p. 4
Course of lace 1923

Course of lace 1923

Tante Eddy, « Notre cours d’ouvrages de dames. La Dentelle aux fuseaux. Deuxième leçon », Les Dimanches de la femme, supplement  Mode du jour, Augustus 26th, 1923, p. 4
Course of lace 1923


Louisa and Emma

On 9 April 1953, Princess Joséphine-Charlotte of Belgium, the oldest daughter of King Léopold III, married Prince Jean, then Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg. For the occasion, she wore a veil in Brussels lace. The veil would also be worn by Maria Teresa Mestre Batista for her marriage to the Hereditary Grand Duke Henri, on 10 November 1980.

These photographs which were published in 'Le Soir illustré' in March 1953 show the lace makers Louisa De Jaeger and Emma Vermassen working on the veil. © KIK-IRPA, Brussels (www.kikirpa.be)
Louisa and Emma