War Lace as Material Culture in a Transnational History of Humanitarian Handicrafts

  • Wendy Wiertz (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


Lacemaking is an important part of Belgium’s cultural heritage. During the First World War this renowned industry was in danger of disappearing forever: demand for the luxury handmade fabric plummeted, while the supply of materials was interrupted. Thousands of lacemakers faced unemployment. In response, humanitarian organisations developed lace-aid programmes: saving an imperilled European tradition, and ensuring the wartime employment of Belgian lacemakers, often women who supported themselves and their families. The schemes were highly successful, bringing unprecedented publicity to the industry and to American philanthropy, and employing more than 50.000 women in German-occupied Belgium and among Belgian refugees in Holland, France and the UK. War lace, with its unique iconography, referred directly to the conflict and included battlefield scenes, names and portraits of people, places, dates, coats-of-arms or national symbols of the Allied Countries, of the nine Belgian provinces or of the Belgian martyr cities. Art historians and craft practitioners have known about war lace, but their focus has been on the small number of high-quality laces designed by recognised artists. In this paper, I will look instead at war lace as material culture in a transnational history of humanitarian handicrafts. In particular, I will focus on lace designs, labels, packaging, display and marketing materials in order to reveal the political, economic, social and cultural currents informing war lace programmes.
Period29 Mar 2022
Event titleNTU Lace End-to-End seminar
Event typeSeminar
LocationOnline, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionLocal