War Lace. Mobilizing Craft in the First World War

  • Wendy Wiertz (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


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 schemes with a twofold goal: 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, sometimes referred directly to the conflict and included 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 towns who suffered most during the German invasion. 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. Combining archival, collection and practice-led inquiry, this paper will look instead at war lace as material culture in the context of a transnational history of humanitarian handicrafts. In particular, this re-focus on material culture and making processes will draw attention to the tangible and intangible ways in which Belgian lace was mobilized as cultural capital for new nationalist or wartime agendas, and the potential effects of these objects as sociocultural participants in their own right, both at the time of their production and consumption.
Period23 Mar 2022
Event titleCraft History Workshop
Event typeWorkshop
Degree of RecognitionNational