One of the great things about the lacemaking festival of Peniche this summer was that there were so many opportunities to chat to the women about a skill which traditionally takes place behind closed doors. Many of the older lacemakers I spoke to had learnt the craft as young girls from family members or neighbours. For many years it was also taught in local secondary schools. One woman, who was seventy five, described how she had been making lace since the age of four, having learnt it from her mother. She told us how as a child she would work on pieces during the long summer holidays. She would then sell the lace to a local shop and use the money to buy herself a pair of smart shoes to wear to the annual religious festival.
Bobbin lacemaking was never apparently a main source of income for the poor fishing communities of Peniche. Instead it was a way for the fishermen’s wives to make extra money when times were hard. According to one woman I spoke to this was particularly the case during the few months of the year when the fishermen would stop going out to sea in their boats to allow the fishing stocks to be replenished.
Since those days, as the community has become more affluent, it seemed as if lace-making in Peniche might die out. However in recent years there’s been a renewed interest in the craft and a desire to preserve a skill so closely associated with this small fishing town. At this year’s event it was great to see quite a few young children, all girls, demonstrating their lacemaking skills alongside the older women. Although no longer taught in secondary schools there is now a college where children and adults can learn the craft.
Traditionally the lace has been used to edge sheets, napkins and tablecloths. but nowadays there is an attempt to find more modern uses for it. My thirteen year-old daughter was rather taken by some lace earrings on sale and it’s now also being incorporated into clothes and accessories such as bags and belts. We didn’t have time to stay and watch the outdoor fashion show or visit the local exhibition where the winners of the annual lacemaking contest have their works displayed, but I do hope this small town continues to find new markets for its unique and enduring talent, which against the odds has survived to the present day.