Art

A criss-cross of art and history

Art across borders: Brudges lace work exhibited at Gandhi Shilp Bazar. Photo: R. Ashok   | Photo Credit: R_ASHOK

The year was 1897 and the coastal hamlet of Mulagumoodu in present-day Kanyakumari district, saw a silent movement in art, effected by two canoness from Belgium — Mother Marie Louise De Meester and Mother Marie Urusule. The two catholic missionaries came to India to take care of the 1,000-odd orphan girl children and founded The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Along with it, they also set rolling a culture of lace-making in the village. Marie Urusule introduced the children to the craft of weaving intricate lace with cotton threads and bobbins that was famous in the town of Bruges in Belgium. The craft not just developed the skills of the local population but also became a source of livelihood, as the lace soon became popular among Belgian customers.

Art across borders: Brudges lace work exhibited at Gandhi Shilp Bazar. Photo: R. Ashok

Art across borders: Brudges lace work exhibited at Gandhi Shilp Bazar. Photo: R. Ashok   | Photo Credit: R_ASHOK

“That’s how the lace made in Kanyakumari got exported to Germany, Rome, and other places in Europe. Though the art was alien to them, the locals adopted it as their own and there was a time when almost every household in Mulagumoodu had a woman making lace,” says M Arul Sahaya Selvi, Administrator, Infant Jesus Technical and Education Institution. Today, there are only two girls being trained in the 120-year-old tradition, apart from the 150-odd women belonging to the previous batches who practice the art. “Though we introduced a four-year training course in lace-making and hand embroidery, not many take to it these days since it’s a time-consuming craft that requires a lot of patience. The exports have also come down along with production.”

A criss-cross of art and history

The Bruges lace is made on a cushion, with pins over which cotton threads are entwined and knitted. Known for its delicate and minute patterns in trademark white colour (very rarely pastel shades of yarns are used), the lace is used in home furnishings, fashion and accessories. The motif is drawn on a tracing sheet that’s pasted on thick chart paper. Pins are fixed on the outline of the drawing and the chart is in turn pinned on to a cushion. “Cotton threads from bobbins are then woven over the traced design. The number of bobbins may differ according to the intricacy of the design,” says Selvi. “There are various types of laces such as Carrickmacross and Rosaline that are studded with lace peals/buttons.”

Madurai, Tamil Nadu, 11/10/2018: For Metroplus: Brudges lace work exhibited at Gandhi Shilp Bazar, Tamukkam, Madurai. Photo: R. Ashok / The Hindu

Madurai, Tamil Nadu, 11/10/2018: For Metroplus: Brudges lace work exhibited at Gandhi Shilp Bazar, Tamukkam, Madurai. Photo: R. Ashok / The Hindu   | Photo Credit: R_ASHOK

The Sisters have been making bottle holders, tea coasters, dinner and cocktail napkins, table cloths, curtains, bedsheets, pillow cases, handkerchiefs and baby dresses with lace. The products are sold through their showrooms in Little Flower Convent in Chennai and Moonjikkal Convent in Kodaikanal. “Apart from exporting, we have been supplying to few domestic customers for years. The Good Companions in Calcutta and Victoria Technical in Chennai are some of the brands that buy from us.”

It take over two-months to make a flower design in lace, says Selvi. “Some two decades ago, we made entire saris in lace. It takes a year to complete one. Separate patches of laces are attached together to create a sari. Lace renders a sophisticated touch and several Syrian Christian families from Kerala prefer lace saris or gowns for weddings. We also make lace veils. Sometimes, people like attaching lace patches or motifs to the borders, pallu or just the pleats,” she adds. “The advantage with lace saris is that even if the sari becomes old or worn out, the motifs can be taken off and stitched on to another sari.” A sari full of lace may cost around ₹1,30,000.

“The irony is that art of lace making is declining even in Bruges. It’s only Mulagumoodu that’s still keeping the craft alive in a foreign land,” says Selvi, who served in Belgium for nearly two years. “Since it’s entirely handmade, we have been able to sustain the quality of material and stitching. That has earned us loyal customers across the globe.”

The Mulagumoodu Sisters have put up a stall, selling handmade lace products at the ongoing Gandhi Shilp Bazar, Tamukkam Grounds. For details, call 9488322483

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Printable version | Apr 30, 2021 11:29:56 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/the-intricate-bruges-lace-from-belgium-finds-place-in-the-lives-and-hearts-of-the-people-of-mulagumoodu/article25204613.ece

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