LACE IN BELGIUM:  Tuesday in Bruges

Bruges is a magical place.  It was magical decades ago when I first visited and did not know the Flemish word for lace was "kant", and remains so today.  The first times I was a tourist, this time it was as a lacemaker and collector.

My base camp was in Gent, a half-hour train ride from Bruges.

Bruges was on my list for Tuesday, and after Brussels I was in no hurry to get there. I had already been informed that the lace exhibits in municipal buildings would not be open during my visit, and it was not clear when or if they would reopen. I had planned visits only to the Kantcentrum and a visit to Anne Thys at 't Apostolientje, which I had discovered on a previous visit many years before.

Beyond that,  I rather expected a repeat of touristy lace shops and inaccessable museum collections.  Because it was not my first visit, I did not plan time for the City Hall, bell towers, canals, Beguinage, and other just simply lovely sites in Bruges. 

If you are on a first visit to Bruges, and if you possibly can, stay overnight in Bruges to allow time both for lace study and for a relaxed dip into history.  My visit was in September, not especially a high tourist time.

I was not expecting anything remarkable, but serendipity and the gods of lace took over, and in spite of initial doubts, I had a fabulous day.



Claeys in Bruges is the original shop of Diane Claeys, lace collector extraordinaire, who is now living in Japan.

I was not really planning on stopping at the shop, thinking it no longer offered lace, but after a mistaken loop on the tram from the train station, I found myself parked in front of the iconic Claeys sign, a clear omen that I should stop in.  


Like many shops in Bruges, it is easy to miss individual small shop fronts.  Approach this shop from the wrong angle, and the large name is obscured, and the front window displays jewelry as well as lace.

Cl entrance disp

In the entranceway there is a display of lace and a notice that clearly they still did offer good old lace even if Diane Claeys is now in Japan.

Diane's daughter Nathalie and her son-in-law, a most charming and welcoming duo,  continue running the shop in Bruges which now combines old lace with jewelry.

Antique lace, mostly good quality nineteenth century collars, runners, shawls, all for sale, line the walls behind the jewelry cases.  Traditional framed motifs abound, some rescued from old pieces, others as fresh as off the pillow, all very artistically displayed.

Claeys insideClaeys-drawer

Expect old lace in Belgium to be rather pricey -- the Belgians, after all, do know what is involved in making lace, and what the older pieces are truly worth.  They are not in any hurry to sell their treasures.  

The pleasant surprise at Claeys was a few drawers of old fragments and study pieces at reasonable prices.  


Especially interesting to me were the pieces of floral War Lace.  I was familiar with the lace done during WWI depicting the animals representing the Allied Nations.  I was not familiar with floral War Lace with the flowers of the Allied Nations.  Interesting but not as distinctive and personable as the animals!


Nathalie explained that her mother is still very actively collecting, so one would expect this show will go on for some time.  

Well worth a visit, and write ahead to make sure the charming Nathalie will be there.

Bruges lunch


A plus:  just around the corner from Claeys is the Half Moon (De Halve Maanbrewery, Spouses not interested in either jewelry or lace can take a tour, and perhaps enjoy a plate of hearty Belgian stew wih frites with their beer.

This stew is to Belgium what Boeuf Bourguignon is to France -- it is of course made with a nice deep rich beer instead of wine.

Moules, or mussels would be another great lunch choice -- or waterzooi, Belgian soup.  

Do plan a nice relaxing break in your day in Bruges.  So many great Belgian beers, so little time! 

There are interesting lace shops that cater to lacemakers as well as lace collectors -- and finally, there is the Kancentrum.

On my meandering way to the Kancentrum, serendipity again tripped me up.


After a couple of days in Belgium, especially with disappointing lace shops in Brussels cluttered with machine made bookmarks and Battenberg bun warmers, I started averting my eyes as i passed the touristy lace shops.  A surprise discovery as I was searching for the KantCentrum: there amid all the clutter, was a display of old patterns and partially worked Point d'Angleterre with wonderful figures.  Could they possibly be for sale?

roco window disp

The charming shop clerk said no, display only, but do go to the main shop of Rococo just around the corner, where I could talk to the shop owner and see what antique pieces might be for sale.

inside everythng

There I met the charming Mieke Brack, lacemaker decended from a long line of lacemakers, lace teacher, and shopkeeper of one of the best treasures in Bruges. 

Be sure you are not tired or hungry when you visit Rococo -- and allow plenty of relaxed time to explore.  Both shops are a dazzling array of crowded walls rising to high ceilings, a warren of small rooms, and thousands of bright shiny objects.

Mieke is after all earning a living so there is a broad mix of old and new in her two shops, offering affordable souveniers to the tourists, antique lace for the collectors, and threads, bobbins and other supplies for lacemakers. 

Rosaline tablecloth

mieke mus over

Be sure to ask if Mieke will take you upstairs -- it is a step into a special world for lace collectors and lace makers.

Up a flight of steep steps is Mieke's ongoing project -- a lace museum.   

She has a fascinating collection of old lacemaker's patterns and notebooks, tools, and archives as well a a lovely collection of old lace.

mieke fingers

Visiting this little museum-in-the-making with Mieke, whose long family history of lacemakers gives her deep knowledge of lace history of Belgium, is the key.

Mieke not only has unique pieces in her collection, she can identify when, where and by whom some of those pieces were made..

eekert ndl laceEekhrdt lace

One example is this distinctive piece designed and made by Minne-Dansaert and identified as Eeckert lace.


I didn't get a good picture of Mieke, but do think this postcard from a few years past tells the story: Mieke as multi- generational lacemaker passing down her heritage to the next generaion. 

Finally it was getting urgent to find my way to the Kantcentrum before closing time.  I am easily distracted, and have a hard time dealing with the twisty roads, meandering canals, and infrequent direction signs.  Stop and ask directions as needed or take a taxi -- the Kantcentrum is a long walk from the city center and not well marked.

But one more stop first.

't Apostelientje

I discovered the shop of Anne Thys decades ago and remembered it as a special place one could count on to find good antique lace for sale.  At that time my purchase was a lovely but predictable Brussels lace collar.  

This time I was looking for more unusual pieces, and wondered what Anne had to offer.

thys streetscape

t'Apostolientje, the unique domain of Anne Thys is a lace shop and museum in one lovely vine-covered stone cottage hidden on a side street fifteen minutes walk from the center of Bruges, but just around the corner from the Kantcentrum.

Apost storefront

Thys titian

I didn't get a good picture of Anne either, but this overall picture tells the story of the shop as well.

t'Apostolienthje is totally unlike any of the other lace shops I found in Belgium.

The lighting is dimmed, as befits a museum, and strains of Mozart quartets play in the background.  But it is indeed a shop.

Anne herself might have stepped out of a Titian paining.

Thys malta

Extraordinarily beautiful and classic lace pieces contrast with the whimsical and charming, all displayed exquisitely.  Who would expect a silk Maltese lace apron?

Rosal round close

portrait 1

Portraits of elegant ladies wearing lace add to the serene atmosphere.

Best of all for me, I found a couple of  affordable treasures to bring home.

And truly just around the corner….  finally…..

Kantc door


Those of you still reading this meandering account of my day in Bruges will realize I did not plan enough time, and had lost braincell capacity by the time I got to the Kancentum.

This is one time I was especially sorry I spoke nothing but English and did not do more homework before arriving on their very subtle and discreet doorstep.

Kantcentrum complex

The Kantcentrum is a rather confusing small cluster of buildings that includes a small side building where a very modest entrance fee is collected,  a small church, the rooms of the lace school itself, and the separate lace museum.  All the directional signs are a little subtle for brain-dead tourists like I was at that moment.

Kantc museum doorway

I was tired and did not stop to ask for help at the entrance, to find out just what was going on, whether there were demonstrations, and just where the museum was, what the whole place was all about.  Don't make my same mistake.  Stop and ask for help and guidance.  Or better yet, contact the Kancentrum before visiting.

Kantc museum tables


The museum consists of a few rooms in a small historic building, and provides the opportunity to view a wide assortment of beautiful lace in a lovely display.  

There is minimal documentation, and thus minimal opportunity to learn new things about old lace.  I would have loved, for example, to learn more about just what "Florence Lace" is.

Florence lace

I stumbled around the complex until I found a sign labeled "demonstrations."  The arrow pointed to a closed door.  Did I dare intrude?  Of course, but there was that moment of doubt.

Inside were a dozen or so lacemakers, a few still busy at their pillows, most begining to pack up.  Again, my own poor planning.  I should have come here first instead of last.

Each lacemaker was working on a different project.  I was surprised at the number of lacemakers demonstrating, fascinated by the range of levels of skill, design, and patterns.  But unfortunately, unable to communicate with them beyond pleasantries, smiles, and nods.

Would it not be fun to be able to join in the fun?  Why not get in touch with the Kancentrum before your visit, and ask if you could bring a travel pillow, or borrow a pillow on the spot, and make lace with the Belgian lacemakers for an hour or two. 

Most impressive and fascinating was a half-worked Binche lace scene of Bruges, about 4 inches by 6 inches, on a pillow piled high with bobbins.   Scenes of Bruges -- the minnewater, the bell tower -- all worked in Binche lace suddenly seem so appropriate and not at all touristy.

I felt this was a wonderful place that must be  -- should be -- the spiritual home of lacemakers around the world.  Lacemaking after all did have its roots near this very spot. I would have loved to have more of an opportunity to learn more about the center, more about old lace, more about the history. The stones in these buldings are as old as lace itself.  And the place was still alive, with lace both ancient and contemporary being made and taught right this very moment.


Most of all I found a new understanding of the challenges and difficulties of keeping this marvelous art form alive.

The prospect of an OIDFA congress in Bruges in 2018 is exciting. Excellent lacemakers and shopkeepers are working hard to keep their passion alive while still earning a living and supporting their families. Their time is precious and limited. Putting on such an international congress will be a daunting prospect but an amazing opportunity.

Hopefully lacemakers and lace collectors around the world will also rise to the challenge and find ways to help and also to plan to be there in 2018.


Posted October 2013

      219-659-1124    Elizabeth Kurella 2014