Last week we visited a small village in the Velay area of France called Le Puy en Velay. It's an amazing place with narrow cobblestone streets, a medieval church, one of the rare statues of a black virgin, and a large brass virgin that overlooks the town.
Le Puy en Velay was also known for it's beautful, handcrafted lace.
My husband remembers visiting Le Puy as a child, and seeing old women sitting at the fott of the steps of the church, making lace.
Le Puy actually became known for its lace back in the 15th century. Le Puy was a departure point for the annual pilgrimage to Saint James of Compostella. A local woman, Isabella Mamour, was asked to create the delicate, transparent dress for the black virgin, which would then be carried all around the city during the procession.
As legend has it, Madame Marmour was the inventor of the first pillow loom and lace bobbin. By the 16th century, hand made lace making had taken off in Le Puy, and as it became more and more fashionable to adorn gowns, hats and undergarments with lace, it became a thriving industry. According to my research, at one time there were over 130,000 lace makers - all of them women.
These days, it's a tradition that's dying. According to one the owner of one of the stores you can still purchase handmade lace items - the 'Echoppe de Mont Anis' - where we purchased a couple of the delicate, handmade lace doilies, her grandmother was one of the ladies that used to sit at the foot of the steps, making lace.
"These days, people want cheap machine made lace" she told us. "And girls don't want to learn how to do the painstaking work."
Her fear is that within a generation or two, the tradition of handmade lace in le Puy will be gone, possibly forever.
In the meantime, you can still purchase these beautiful handmade items in Le Puy en Velay.