An approach to Spanish laces

Origins of Spanish laces

Photo 1:  Metallic lace 17th. cent

Photo 2:  Antique bobbins  (Museos de Arenys)

Photo 3:  Metallic laces, 16th. and 17th. cent

Having noted the differences between European neighbors, there is one common thread indeed that links them all, and that is lace. The origins of lacemaking in Spain can be traced back to the Middle Ages when beaded trims or passementeries were introduced. They were the precursors of lace, originating in the Middle East where fibers were twined and plaited to decorate clothing.

The oldest piece discovered in Spain was that of a metallic golden “guipure”; that surely trimmed an ecclesiastical vestment belonging to St. Domingo de Silos in the 11th. Century.”Guipure” is a very old verb, meaning “to roll thread around a cord”. At the beginning of the 16th. Century, laces always contained a gimp which formed the pattern, and the term has been preserved. In modern language, this word is applied to any lace with geometric designs, flowers, or arabesques, held together by loops or bars in contradistinction to other laces that are made with an all-over net ground. It started to be called lace because firstly it was worked separately and then joined to the material. We get in Spanish the word “encaje” from the ancient word “encaixe“; similar in its sense to “fit”. The first piece to be considered lace as we know it worked with white thread and gold, was found in Vic in Catalonia also on an ecclesiastical vestment. It was not until the 15th. and 16th. Centuries that lace came into its own when ruffed collars were fashionable. Lace was extremely costly and so, the person's wealth and standing in society could be judged by the amount of lace he or she wore.

However, even the poorest parishes used the same techniques to make lace using less costly threads (pitta).

Over the next 200 years, metallic laces worked with gold and silver threads were used to decorate ecclesiastical articles and Madonna's dresses. 

Point d’Espagne or Point of Spain was the name given in origin by French manufacturers. The lace was worked with gold o silver threads, and its production in Spain achieved great distinction, being one of the most celebrated. 

Laces according shape and style

Laces by its shape

The name “Puntillas” or “Puntas” in French “dentelles”, is given for the pointed-shaped head of some laces, (scalloped) which have been used as an ornament at the bottom of skirts and petticoats. The opposite edge side of the lace, is finished off with a straight “foot”. It is this edge that will later be attached to the fabric. In Spain, the foot is always worked on the left side, although in other countries such as England, the border or "foot" is worked on the right side, and the decorative border is on the left. The called "entredos" is characterized by having two straight narrow feet on both sides.

 We can consider the lace by its style too.

The style is determined depending on the combination of the above-mentioned elements and others not included here for not extending myself. Laces are grouped by classes, types, parentages, and kinds. When we mix two or more types, mixed lace arises.

The lace types are grouped by parentages and are those that continue to retain the same original characteristics and that have only undergone minor variations, but maintain great similarities.

The lace type groups laces that have certain similarities, but are comparatively different together with laces of the same class. The complexity of laces was determined by the process of transferring some types to others, some parentages to others, etc. up to hundreds of varieties with very small differences. The spreading of laces across borders, was possible through samples. A set of samples becomes what in Spanish we call  "dechado", equivalent to a teaching book in which the technique and the decorative stitches are explained, in a visual and realistic mode so that learning is done in a self-taught way.

Bibliography: “Catálogo de Encajes y bordados” Mª Angeles Gonzalez Mena.


Lacedays events take place in the open air from March to December all around the country, and the ladies can be seen seated at tables demonstrating lacemaking techniques to the passers-by. When it gets particularly hot, they maybe use a lace fan to cool themselves. Relatively unknown in many cooler climate countries, hand fans are so important in Spain that they are really a part of Spanish culture. Apart from lace fans, the other tradition still carried on today in parts of Spain is, to wear the lace “mantilla”; or Spanish veil on special occasions. In Andalucia and Castilla mantillas are worn for Holy Week processions and weddings. There are three main shapes -rectangular, fish, or triangular (pollitas), and they are worked mainly in bobbin lace, particularly Blonde and Chantilly, which is extremely fine. Motifs are generally floral but can also be landscapes and even human figures. For the most part, lacemaking is a hobby in Spain but there are some regions where it forms a local industry. 

Laces in different areas of the country:

Galicia, Almagro, Castilla, Cataluña

Typical Camariñas lace


This is the case of Camariñas in the northwest of Spain is a small fishing village, where every year during Holy Week they have a Great Lace Event including a fashion show. Laces in Camariñas arrived from European countries. Its arrival to Galician lands was done in multiple ways: invasions, soldiers, sailors, or by means of the Camino de Santiago. The laces are worked with plaited grounds, leaves, and tallies forming flowers, as well as a lot of geometrical motifs. Nowadays, the region of Camariñas together with Almagro in the center of Spain concentrates the major part of the lace sector which is estimated at 3.500 lacemakers “palilleiras”,  and an important annual bill income from their production. Camariñas Council has designed in the last five years a Development Plan for bobbin lace, in order to activate the formation, commercialization, promotion, and restructuring of the sector, which in a short time has managed to invigorate it through each generation, recovering ancient designs and making new ones. The versatility of lace has permitted the diversification of its application in the textile sector, spreading to the decoration and design of objects as presents. 

Around 1520, Count Fernando de Andrade left for Flanders and participated in the wars that then occupied Europe, with a large army from the region of Pontedeume. Upon his return, these men came not only with samples and models of lace, but also returned married to women who knew the practice of this work. 

In this way, new models and techniques were introduced and will easily spread along the Galician coast. Guipure, mixed with simple geometric motifs is among the various types of lace,  the most characteristic of the Camariñas area. In any case, it has also been influenced by other types of lace, such as decorated background lace or numerical lace, whose designs have been adapted to Camariñas lace.  Visit the web of the MUSEO MECAM DE CAMARIÑAS

Blonda of Almagro 


Almagro, in the area of “La Mancha”, is also important in Spanish lacemaking history, as ladies in the 16th. Cent., earned their living from lace as described in Cervantes book “Don Quixote”. From 1766 to 1800 laces became an industry when first Mrs. Rita Lambert, and later Mr. Juan Bautista Torres coming from Madrid and Catalonia set up an important lace industry, mainly Catalonian Blonde. At that moment, Catalonian production was exported to Europe, and Almagro became the first domestic supplier. Almagro lace used to be made with thicker threads than those made in Catalonia, but the typical mantilla made in Almagro worked in silk with certain Gothic aftertastes in the design became very popular, although curiously there is no Gothic architecture in the area. This means that even this type of lace could have come from outside that geographical area. Tradition never declined completely, so you can find nowadays, if you visit La Mancha, the ladies seated at their home doors, in different villages of the region working laces in the open air during summer time. They work Encaje Popular (peasant lace), similar to those worked in Camariñas, but leaves are worked in a longish way and they are combined with geometrical clothstitch motifs. 

Almagro’s Museum 

Motif:  "Soles de Salamanca"

Castilla & Leon

Castilla  and León are very representative places for both: bobbin and needle lace and the first known data refer to a piece of needlelace dated 1530 in the Carrizo Monastery. 

The most characteristic lace motifs are the "soles" worked with the needle.

"Soles", were already known in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries and reached their perfection in the 17th century. The "Soles de Salamanca" and "Soles de Astorga" are the most widespread denominations and there are preserved pieces in the Monasterio de Silos, Peñaranda, Alba de Tormes, Monasterio de Carrizo, and de la Hiniesta in Zamora. "Soles de Salamanca" spread to other parts of the world and took the names that were later known as Soles de Tenerife and Soles de Paraguay.


The history of lace in Catalonia seems to begin during the Sixteenth Century and a needlepoint called “Point of Catalonia”, similar to Reticella Italiana was very popular. In the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, metallic laces worked with gold and silver threads were used to decorate ecclesiastical articles and Madonna’s dresses.  

During the Eighteenth Century, lace making became an important industry in Catalonia. It was organized so that designers supplied the patterns and materials to lacemakers who worked the lace in their homes. The laces were worked with silk in different techniques: blonde and/or Chantilly and other pieces mixing bobbin and needle lace.  The pieces were greatly influenced by the French laces. Later, these laces evolved for practical reasons, to be made with fine linen and cotton, named “Catalonian Blonda” and “Ret-fi”. This last in the villages of Arenys de Munt i Arenys de Mar. The  laces were exported from Catalonia to other parts of Spain, France, and North and South America (18th. and 19th. cent.) 

Ret-Fi lace

Hanky - Ret-Fi lace

Fan - Ret-Fi lace

detail Ret-Fi lace

The Mares Lace Museum located in the village of Arenys de Mar (40 Km. from Barcelona) owns a magnificent collection of laces that illustrates a wide and varied range of lace techniques, among which bobbin lace is widely represented, together with an extensive sample of needle lace, all of them arranged within different designs and styles dating from the S. XV to our days. The richness of the pieces mentioned includes some worked in gold and silver threads, called Punto de España (16th. and 17th. cent), intricate embroidery from Castile, Extremadura, embroidered silk and cotton lace, lace from Venice, from Flanders: Binche, Rosalina, Duchesse, Valenciennes, Belgian, England, Brussels. French lace: (Alençon-Needle), Lille, Mechelen, Caen, le Puy, Cluny, etc; from England: Honiton; from Malta, Russia, Ireland, and a great variety of Catalan lace, in white and black silk, and the genuine lace of this geographical area: the Retfi Català or Punta d’Arenys. More information on the page of MUSEU MARES DE LA PUNTA

The village of l’Arboç is a traditional lace locality where it is worked the so-called “Blonda de l’Arboç”. It is worth visiting the Lace Museum where there can be found very interesting pieces that show the importance that laces had been for its people.

In the Arboç the tradition is still alive according to which Santa Úrsula asked the Virgin for work for 11,000 maiden friends of hers. To satisfy her demand, the Virgin instructed her in the art of bobbin lace. Once the craft was learned from her, she taught all her friends before undertaking the pilgrimage to Rome.

As is known, Saint Ursula and her 11,000 virgins were martyred in Cologne, when coming back to their country: Brittany. It is therefore assumed that they not only came to learn this art, but that they had spread it during their trip.

According to the Arboç tradition, the art of making bobbin lace will never die, because the Virgin wears lace on her dresses and there will always be devotees who are willing to enrich her clothing.


floral detail - Arboç lace

Arboç Blonda

Arboç lace

Figurative lace

In the twentieth century, at the top of the great industrialization era, it was born in Barcelona a lace with its own characteristics, which was called by its creators, the sisters Antonia and Montserrat Raventos i Ventura,  “Punta de Barcelona”.

In 1951, the Chapter of the Cathedral of Barcelona, commissioned a panel for the main altar, in order to be premiered during the Eucharistic Congress to be celebrated the following year. Raventós sisters made a design applying different details of the Cathedral: the cross, arches, crests, and other architectural motifs, such as the wrought iron grid of the pulpit, -a snail that reminds the plague suffered in the 16th century while the Temple was built, and reflected in its staircase-, as well as the bell tower and archivolts of  St. Eulalia’s entrance. The lace was made according to the drawing in small fragments, where parts were made in bobbin lace and others in needle lace. As the piece could not be worked by only one person, the small fragments were worked by 39 lacemakers for nine months. Once finished, it was stated that the piece had its own characteristics and did not resemble any other lace, so far they gave the name of “Punta de Barcelona”. Subsequently, other orders were received, such as a runner for the ” Palacete Albéniz”‘s table and a panel for the “Bon Consell Chapel” of  Barcelona`s City Council which were used 2,200 hours for their preparation, was made too.

The Raventós sisters struggled for the appreciation of laces for years, teaching and collecting information, even publishing a book in 1963 with a treaty on lace making throughout Europe.

As a result of the exhibitions set up in the “Salon del Tinell” in 1960,  at “Lluisa Cura School” in the year 1961, and a retrospective in 1963 with the lace that had been made by his disciples for a long time, arose the possibility of creating a Patronage and, in turn, The Barcelona’s School of Puntaires , an institution that began to operate as a part of the School Massana of Barcelona. Later, for lack of space, it was moved to the Palace of the Virreina and then again moved to Barcelona’s Textile and Clothing Museum, and recently are established in C / Sant Erasme, 11 in Barcelona.

Although lacemaking suffered a decline in the 19th. and 20th. cent. as a handmade craft, there is now a revival. Lace courses and events are programmed in every village throughout the country, in Catalonia the “Annual Lace Day Event” -Diada-,  years ago attracted up to 2.500 lacemakers from all over Spain.

Below are three samples of "Punta de Barcelona"