LACE IN BELGIUM:  Friday in Leuven

Leuven store streetGREY RESHOOT OVER

Scheduled for my last day in Belgium was a trip to the town of Leuven, just outside Brussels, and a visit to the lace shop Serena.

Leuven has been a university town since the mid-1400s. It is not known either as a lace or tourist destination.  Serena thus is off the traditional tourist route, and typically overlooked by lace collectors.  I wouldn't have known about the lace shop Serena  but for a tip from a lace-collecting friend.  

As with all my visits to towns in Belgium, I arrived by train.  And, as usual, picking the right exit from the train station was a bit confusing.  I won't even try to explain which exit to use, because there was so much construction going on it is bound to change.  Simply ask which way to the main part of town.  

Streets in the old part of town are narrow, parking is very scarce, so arriving by train is a very good option.  It is an easy half-hour commute from Brussels, and even easier fifteen minutes non-stop train from the main Brussels airport of Zaventem.  I would not be afraid to make a quick trip to Serena if I had a few hours layover at Zaventem.  Check the train schedule, but consider a taxi as a option in a pinch.


Even dragging a carry-on suitcase, I walked from the train station to Serena.  It is just straight up a slight hill towards the very visible cathedral, and around the back in the old town.

To make it easier, I usually carry the address where I am heading, and ask directions any time I feel a bit uneasy about a choice of direction. A local actually walked me to the door for the last hundred yards!

Serena is not obviously a lace shop. 

As you approach from the nearby cathedral square, the shop front will have the typical tourist shop chalkboard, and racks of postcards and other souvenirs out front.

What makes Serena a worth-while destination for lace collectors, decorators, costume designers, and lace makers is shop owner Lieve Lams and her large and varied assortment of vintage lace.

lieve w boxes

Lieve is an artist decended from a family of lacemakers, and has an extraordinary selection of lace in her shop and an even more fascinating personal collection. No mistaking handmade and machine here!

Spend a bit of time just looking around the tiny, crowded shop.  On the walls will be an extensive array of small framed motifs, and great assortment of collars, cuffs, shawls, and other wearable lace, as well as a great assortment of placemats, doilies, centerpieces, and tablecloths.

Droschel mesh overview

Veil with bobbin lace motifs appliqued on to a Vrai Droschel mesh.  Click for larger view.

Milliners lace

Milliner's lace made of horsehair.  Click for larger view.

But the best, most interesting stuff is hidden in boxes.

Need a set of handmade lace initials to personalize your table linens, or perhaps an initial to personalize a pretty wedding handkerchief?  Lieve possibly can supply it.

skirt front

Skirt front assembled from deep flounces of Brabant Duchesse bobbin lace.  Click for larger image.

lams shop lappets
Cutwork Horseman det316

Cutwork panel made with two unusual fabrics.  Click for larger image.

Lams lace w raised ndlwrk

Yardage of bobbin lace with raised buttonhole stitch accents. Click for larger image.   

Looking for unusual collector's study pieces, or want something special for your personal museum?  How about yardage of silk blonde, still as it was made in strips, ready to be connected and made into wide shawls or flounces?  Or perhaps a bobbin lace Dutch bonnet.

Or horsehair lace made for milliner's handmade hats. 

Or a gossamer-fine veil entirely handmade of Vrai Droschel.  There is a line in the play "Ask For the Moon" as a group of lacemakers work on a wedding veil for the squire's daughter:  "A breath will raise it up, a sigh'll let it fall."  I truly understand that line now that I have handled the veil entirely made with a handmade Droschel mesh.  It fairly floats in the air in a way machine made tulle never does.

Need a few yards of vintage lace for a ball gown or wedding dress? Serena has mint condition Point d'Angleterre, Point de Gaze,  Rosaline and other yardage suitable for dress designers and decorators. 

Phone or email ahead to make sure Lieve is going to be there, and let her know what kinds of lace you are looking for.  And be sure to ask Lieve to clear a path up the narrow stairway to the museum upstairs, where a lovely collection of lappets, flounces, and other vintage treasures await.

Flr and vegi MKT

Stop in Leuven on your way into or out of Brussels, or plan a day trip.  

Friday morning is an especially good day to stop in Leuvan, with a farmer's market in front of the University Library in the morning.  

Perhaps find a bit of juicy roast chicken from a food truck for an impromptu picnic, or perhaps a flaky Belgian pastry and some raspberries for dessert. The flower market was dazzling the day I was there,  the selection was wonderful and it was difficult to not try to smuggle flower bulbs back home in my suitcase. 

Serena, and a visit with Lieve Lams in particular, was a perfect ending for my lace study trip.  What a joy to spend a day with someone who has lived with lace and lacemaking her whole life, and who truly loves the whole eclectic world it represents from high fashion to peasant, court to cottage.   The outlandish, offbeat, unconventional.  It is a reminder of how eclectic lace truly is.  The wide range of techniques, quality levels, styles, designs.

And it is an ongoing learning experience.

Berthe w inserts front sec

After I got back home and was rummaging through a box of lace in search of a particular study piece, I came across a berthe that I found on Ebay a long time ago.  What attracted me to the piece were the insertions -- they were not the typical point de gaze inserts.

Berthe w insert CU355

These were unusual torchon-ground inserts, and remarkably similar to unused inserts Lieve had in her shop Serena.  

Although those inserts seemed interesting and unusual, I didn't buy any.  Perhaps it was end-of-trip, can't-buy-everything syndrome.  

Now I wish I had.  I'd like to compare them to the inserts in my berthe.  Two of the little motifs surrounding the inserts in this berthe do not match the scrollwork that surrounds the rest of the insert.  Instead, they match the background, and integrate the insert into the whole berthe.  Curiously different from the usual. 

I wish Lieve was my next door neighbor, and I could run back and get one of the unused inserts, or show her my piece with inserts like those in her collection and how they had been used!  

The internet does offer great communication possibilities, and  I am hoping the connection with Lieve Lams and Serena with be lifelong.  So much to learn from those still part of the continuity of lacemaking in Belgium.

And still another reason to encourage the selection of Bruges for the 2018 OIDFA Congress.


Berthe w insert XCU356

9 Pennstraat, Leuven, Belgium


November 2013      219-659-1124    Elizabeth Kurella 2014