Rent a house or a Room in Gozo, Malta
Gozo Lace making is an old craft for which the island is renowed all over the world.
BIZZILLA (bits- tsil- lah)
There was a time when Gozo Lace making fell into decline and was revived in 1883 by the British Lady Hamilton Chicester who brought laceworkers from Genoa to encourage local women to take up the craft again.
Indeed it was a well-established local industry well before that time. There is iconographic evidence of its use in various paintings by Francesco Zahra (1710-1773) and Antoine de Favray (1706-1798), representing high dignitaries of the Order of St John, ecclesiastics and Maltese ladies of society.
Maltese lace (bizzilla) then took on a character of its own and began featuring the Maltese Cross, fatter wheat leaves and using cream coloured silk and cotton thread. Maltese lace makes use of swirls and is less geometric than Genoese lace. Lace making spread to the whole of Gozo and became a thriving industry through the efforts of two priests: Canon Salvatore Bondi (1790-1859) and Fr Joseph Diacono (1847-1924)who was a great designer of the lace patterns. Gozo Lace working helped in no small way in raising the standard of living of Maltese and Gozitan families.
I remember my great-aunts working till late on winter nights by the feeble light of kerosene lamps. Their quick fingers moved constantly over the 'cushion' (mhadda, trajbu) twirling and tumbling the bobbins (combini), twisting the thread (harir or ghazel) and fixing the pins as their work progressed slowly downwards over the pattern (disinn).
As I lay in bed with the covers up to my ears, the sound of the bobbins and their soft talking lulled me to sleep. Read the story about Lace Making and the Evil Eye.
Bobbin winder, simple hand driven wooden machine
How to Make Gozo Lace - - the way I remember things.
They had a Bobbin Winding Machine (raddiena) worked by hand (picture). It was very simple and made of wood: a five-inch wheel fixed at one end of the base, with a handle and a groove along its perimeter to hold a thread. At the other end 2 'pillars' with 3 sets of grooves about 7 inches high and fixed to the base 3 or 4 inches apart to hold a bobbin.
The thread was measured and the 2 ends were tied together and had to be long enough to go round the wheel and round a bobbin placed in one of the 'pillar' grooves. When the wheel was turned by its handle the bobbin did several turns and was winded very quickly. After winding, a half-hitch was applied so that the thread would not come undone.
The Cushion sizes varied but I venture to say that a normal size 'mhadda' (pronounce: M-hud-dah) was about 20 to 24 inches long with a diameter of about 7 or 8 inches with rounded head and rounded foot and slightly tapering towards the foot. It was simply a tight bundle of soft dry straw wrapped in newspaper and sacking and finished with a layer upon layer of glued strips of brown paper until a smooth surface was achieved. The surface needed to be very smooth to facilitate working the numerous bobbins and to serve as a good bed for the pattern.
The glue that they used was homemade, of course. They boiled some water and added flour little by little, stirring constantly until the required consistency was obtained. They called it 'lamtu' (pronounce: lam-too).
The Patterns were obtained from the commissioning lace merchant who also supplied the reels of thread. The patterns were created by a designer who was a kind of creative artist. However the lace making workers used copies of the designs which they then affixed to the cushions.
For the next step they needed another simple tool, the awl which they called the 'disinjatur' (pronounce: dis-in-ya-too-r). It was simply a strong needle with the blunt end inserted in a little piece of soft wood and was used to prick holes in the cushion as required by the pattern in hand.
The Gozo lace worker had several pairs of wooden bobbins called 'combini' (pronounce: chom-bee-knee) or some expensive ones made of bone. I say pairs because after winding, the bobbins were tied in pairs to make them ready for the lace work proper.
They held the cushion on their lap and rested it against the wall, the back of another chair or the edge of a table. Near them they always had their small wicker basket 'bixkilla' (pronounce: bish-kill-lah) to hold the bobbins, a small cushion called 'kuxxinett' (pronounce: (cushy-net) for the pins and a small scissors.
I don't know about the technique except that when they introduced new bobbins it was always in pairs. They hung them by the thread to a pin and started twisting the thread and slowly and patiently filling the pattern.
There is a steady demand for Gozo lace by visitors to the Island. To ensure the survival of this ancient craft, lace making is taught in Government trade schools for girls, while private bodies such as the Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce also hold special evening classes. From time to time exhibitions are held and this helps to arouse public awareness of the cultural importance of this element (bizzilla tac-combini) of Malta's national heritage.
When I was young I used to hear a tragic story connected in a way to lace making. It is a true story that happened in the early 1900's in Victoria at a time when the Gozo lace-making industry was at its peak. Read about the Murder of Cenca a girl of 13 who disappeared mysteriously from the face of the earth one wintry night.
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Lace workers on a Summer afternoon. The old ladies are sitting in the inner courtyard in their home.
Oil Painting made in 1999.
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Rent a house or a Room in Gozo, Malta