“Undergraduate Laura Wilder Investigates the Lace-Making Industry in Burano, Italy.”
By Laura Wilder
This summer, I had the opportunity to study and research the lace-making industry in Burano, Italy after receiving the UNC Robinson Honors Fellowship. My goal was to better understand how the changes to the industry and art-form over time affected the durability of the trade and the women who make the lace. To do this, I visited the lace archive in Venice, traveled to lace and fashion museums in Milan, Rome, Lake Trasimeno, and Brussels on the weekends, interviewed lace makers of Burano, and took lace-making classes. Taking the classes in the Martina Vidal Atelier on the island was my favorite part because I formed a close connection with my teachers, practiced a lot of Italian, and as a sewer myself, picked up a new needlework technique! My best anecdote from the trip came from my first day of class when I walked in and discovered that unbeknownst to me, my teachers could not speak English! Despite the fact that I am an Italian major, needlework vocabulary was never a part of the chapters in class, so I was constantly on my toes during our lessons, and eventually, during my interviews with them.
After returning from my trip, I met with the North Carolina Regional Lacers during their bi-annual Lace Day to learn how guilds such as their own are keeping the interest alive in what many claim is a dying art-form. Similarly, my biggest takeaway from visiting the women of Burano and Isola Maggiore was that the unique techniques of each town are disappearing at an alarming rate due to the limited number of people interested in learning in their area. Through a collaboration with leading lace-makers in some of these towns, I am hoping to launch a collaboration to encourage the use of YouTube and how-to videos in order to better spread knowledge to people interested in lace-making around the world.
When I tell people about my experience, they are usually confused as to how I developed my research proposal since it is so specific. For me, it was simply a combination of my interests! The summer prior to my application, I studied abroad in Florence, Italy and had the chance to visit Venice for the first time. My initial reaction upon stepping foot on the small island of Burano (close to Venice) was awe when I was surrounded by lace clothing, table runners, napkins (you name it!), and incredible women devoted to their craft. I even had the chance to speak with a shop owner about her experience making lace and how long she had been doing it, to which she replied, “since the beginning.” I have a personal connection to needlework crafts because it was important to both of my grandmothers and I learned how to sew and embroider from my mom. After leaving Burano, I knew that I wanted to learn more about this amazing place and the history of the art-form in the region, but I did not know where to start. Lucky for me, I stumbled upon the Robinson Honors Fellowship, a summer award for students interested in researching Western European culture and art. The specificity, uniqueness, and personal aspects of my project helped me to earn this amazing fellowship; when I meet with students who are interested in doing research in either the humanities or in STEM, these are the qualities that I push them to find in their projects. Above all, your project should be something that you are passionate about!