Born in Burano, near Venice, where she is living, Lucia Costantini has been crafting needle lace since she was a child when she learned the ancient secrets of the art from the women in her family. A talented craftswoman, she designs the graphic projects for her works on her own and turns them into traditional white or innovatively multicoloured lace.
Tell us about your story. When and how did you start creating lace?
I learned the craft as a young girl at Burano's Scuola Merletti (Lace School), but my very first teachers were my grandmother (whose pillow is now in Burano's Museo del Merletto – Lace Museum) whom I always saw working hard, especially on the “Burano stitch”, and my mother, who was a talented lacemaker. As a child, I was attracted to the little strips which I used to watch, waiting to hear the fascinating “snap” of the thimble on the paper while the needle would run stitch by stitch creating a texture out of nothingness.
Then, I attended drawing classes and bought Leonardo da Vinci's sketchbooks to study perspective, chiaroscuro, figure. I started visiting museums with fresh eyes. When I saw my success, I kept going on, as I knew I was only risking my time, my labour, and great sacrifice, which, nonetheless, were continually leading me to meet with more suggestions, do research and throw myself into uninterrupted work to complete a piece of work.
Did anyone specifically influence you in your life as a lacemaker?
Two people played an important role in my life: firstly, Vilma de Marchi Micheli, a teacher, lacemaker, embroiderer, historian and researcher who came to Italy from the United States to study our art. We met during one of her many journeys and, together, we went through, and shared, experiences and emotions, goals and achievements, defeats and disappointments. Her motto is: ‘There is always another way!' A woman with incredible strength, which she shared with me! Thanks to her and with her, I was able to do so many things in the States: exhibitions, conferences and lectures.
Doretta Davanzo Poli is the second person. I met her during a course I attended in 1983/84 at Consorzio Merletti Burano. She came in to give a lecture and that started a connection at first sight. She became my “Fairy godmother”, my “hook in the sky” for any doubt and research, and in times of discomfort. She is always present.
You are a Teacher of the typical Burano lace. What are its characteristics?It is a difficult kind of lace, entirely created with a needle with no textile support. It evolves from a mere seam called 'warping', which is created by a foot-operated machine and supports the design that in the past was made by hand. This supports the actual lace processing. By sticking the thread in a previously chosen form from one end of the 'warping' to the next, you continue with a stitch called 'sacolà'.
How many stitches are there in lace-making?
For lace too, there are several processing steps, which are usually carried out by different lacemakers, each specialising in one of them. Each step includes different stiches: from design to warping, from guipure (the basis where decorative points are fixed) to Venice stich, evoking the bridges connecting the lagoon city. But also Burano stitch, a diaphanous mesh embellishing the void spaces surrounding the guipure, a stitch created in mid-18th century, when fashion enhanced lightweight, less sumptuous lace, and raised work, a cordonnet applied with a very fine thread around the filled up forms and the piece of work.
Finally, the lift-off, when you cut the warp-thread to remove the lace from its support.
Which is or are your favourites? Why?
I have no favourite stitches because I decide on the ones to be used according to the design, the decoration and the meaning I want to convey.
How long does it take to create a lacework?
Creating a work always takes plenty of time: from one or two weeks to one month to create a flower or several months for other subjects.
Which work took you longer?
Several works kept me busy at my pillow for 8-10 months, namely “Omaggio al '92” or “Kosmikos”. It took me a year to make “Habito”, which put me to the test, both for the time it took, and financially, but was also very gratifying: with this work, in fact, I was included in Brussels' Grand Prix Reine Fabiola elitist exhibition, the only ever Italian representative.
How far does territory affect your creations?
I believe the place where you are born and grow up affects your choices about life and work. The colours, smells, customs, expressions and general culture of a territory mould you with a unique richness. Burano is a bright, coloured island: how could you create lagoon landscapes without introducing colours? How could you leave other forms and materials unexplored?
How do you combine the project's concept and the way you create it?
When an idea arises in my mind and I already envisage a whole spectrum of possibilities, I can “see” how it can be made and I start designing it. It is crucial to know what you want to create from the very beginning, because you cannot change anything in the implementation phase. Sometimes, though, I start from the material and I try to find an idea.
Is there a moment you remember with a particular emotion?
Definitely, the way I was welcomed in the different cities of the United States, especially in the Hawaii, where you are welcomed with a “lai”, a flower necklace. As for personal achievements, undoubtedly the Premio Assicurazioni Generali - which was awarded to Venice's Historical Regatta Champions at Cà Farsetti, in the presence of the Mayor – but also Queen Fabiola's congratulations in Brussels, and many students with their love! Not least, being acknowledged as a Maestro d'Arte e Mestiere (Art and Craft Master) by Fondazione Cologni. I struggled with institutions so that people who have been fully engaged in their lives might receive a qualification, and also to protect education and uniqueness.