Calais – Cité de la dentelle

November 30, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Posted in Lace, Museums and Exhibitions | Leave a comment

My next stop was Calais. One of the biggest harbours for passenger travel in the world, Calais is mostly a town people pass through on their way to or from a ferry. That’s exactly what happened to me on a few earlier visits. A journal article on the opening of the Cité de la Dentelle et de la Mode in Calais convinced me to make Calais a stop on my tour. And it was a great decision, for experiencing a charming coastal town, sitting on the beach and watching the ferries as well as for a great and modern museum.

The view from outside already suggests the content: an old factory building was enlarged with a modern part sporting an undulating glass front—history and present combined into one attractive package. Looking closer, that glass front is decorated with punch card patterns!

Inside, there’s everything and more than expected. The permanent exhibition starts with a room displaying old laces. The room is pretty dark to protect the fragile textiles, and only gets lit a bit more when somebody enters. The laces are very thoughtfully presented—a whole history of hand-made laces in one room. Marvelous! Even though I’ve seen handmade laces in quite a few different museums by now, having all the different kinds in one room and being able to trace the development of lace following the pieces exhibited is great.

At the end of that room there’s a small hands-on area demonstrating how the different types of laces are made. You can try your hand at bobbin- and needle lace making using the ropes attached there, nothing small and fiddly! Since I already know the principles of making those laces, what was more interesting to me in that area was a presentation of the materials used: they took a small bobbin-lace pattern and made it up in cotton, linen, wool, and silk. Since the four pieces are otherwise identical, you can compare how the properties of the thread influence the final product: the sheen of silk, the crispness of linen, the fuzzyness of wool can easily be seen. It’s no wonder that linen was the traditional material for lace-making, since it brings out the pattern so clearly.

The next room delves into the history of Calais as a center of machine lace making. The impulse and the machines coming over from England, it’s no surprise that this harbour town became a center of the trade. Lots of different exhibits document that part of the town’s history.

Up one floor, there’s four Leavers looms in working order being used to demonstrate. Even though I had seen a working loom in Caudry the day before, it was still fascinating. I could watch those machines for hours. In the next room, the whole process of machine-lace making from design to finishing is shown,  and all the machines needed for this.

Lace is of course used in fashion, and the next room has a selection of lace garments of different times and styles on display. Always fun to look closer at the details.

Just when I thought I was at the end of the exhibition, there’s another room, combining a couple of different purposes: There’s a part of the room showing how modern materials and production technologies have influenced the medium, and there’s space for special exhibitions. When I was there, there was a presentation of objects playing with lace effects using different materials.

What else is there? A library with specialized books, a café, and of course a museum shop with a huge selection of books and presents. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit, and would come again in a heartbeat given the opportunity.

Next stop? Paris!

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