Patriotic Laces - Hidden Protest: Female Lace-Makers in German-Occupied Belgium during the First World War

Wendy Wiertz

Research output: Contribution to conference typesAbstractpeer-review


The First World War threatened to extinguish the renowned Belgian lace industry, cut off from both markets and raw materials. Thousands of female lacemakers would be left without an income. Humanitarian organisations stepped in, saved the country’s cultural heritage, and supported its workers by supplying materials and selling the finished fabrics. In German-occupied Belgium, the American relief organisation, the Commission for Relief in Belgium, and its local partner, the Comité de la Dentelle, developed an aid programme for the lacemakers. Their actions gave unprecedented publicity to the industry and employed more than 50.000 women. The produced lace became known as ‘war lace’, named after its unique iconography with references to the conflict. These included battle scenes, names and portraits of people, places, inscriptions, 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 addressing war lace have concentrated on high-quality laces designed by recognised artists and have generally framed their research in a nationally-bound labour history. This paper will instead draw attention to the Belgian lacemakers and the multiple, yet often contradictory experiences with the lace aid programme. Using war laces, contemporary publications and archival sources in Belgium and in the U.S., this paper will uncover how the programme reproduced the social and gendered order, but also allowed an outlet for feelings of anxiety and patriotism, provided a space for solidarity and community, and sometimes even resulted in opportunities for empowerment and protest.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 11 Oct 2021
EventTextile and Place. Conference 2021 - Manchester, United Kingdom
Duration: 11 Oct 202115 Oct 2021


ConferenceTextile and Place. Conference 2021
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


Dive into the research topics of 'Patriotic Laces - Hidden Protest: Female Lace-Makers in German-Occupied Belgium during the First World War'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this