Interview with Maria Grazia Lenti, Il giardino dei punti.

How did you learn your art?

I collected embroidery and old lace, and I already dabbled in these arts, but without knowing anything in depth about cross-stitch technique. So I decided to enrol in an embroidery course, but not even my instructor had completely mastered the technique. So I started looking around. With a few friends, we set up a club, found an instructor, and finally, after years of effort, became experts.

The instructors of at least half of the schools open since 1992 are made up of us.

I think it would be a great step ahead if lace or embroidery were to be taught in the schools.

When did you decide to open a school of lace making and embroidery?

The idea had been buzzing around in our heads, but we had no headquarters. One day, to get out of the pouring rain, all of us who had formed the association took shelter in an entryway where we read a sign “For Rent”. On impulse, we rented out the space in Via Cappuccio, where we still are today: that was in 1992. At first, the school offered courses in stencilling, floral composition and embroidery. From the second year onwards, we decided to concentrate only on embroidery and lace-making, which is our main activity today, together with restoration of old lace, which is entrusted only to the most highly skilled workers. The instructors of at least half of the schools open since 1992 are made up of us.

What is the relationship between traditional techniques and the need to keep up with the times?

The basic technique, the canvas stitch, is the same the world over, and is the point of departure for learning other techniques and developing any kind of project.
Il Giardino dei Punti introduced the technique of printing the design on tracing paper, from which it was then reproduced on cardboard, without having to redo the same design by hand on graph paper every time.

What kinds of people are interested in your work – who takes part in your courses or commissions works?

Students come from other countries like France or Japan, and they are people who are fascinated with hand-crafted things; unfortunately there are not very many young people.
The commissions come from Italy, America, the United States, Australia, Japan: we often don’t know the clients personally, but we know that word gets around among the people who love our work.

What are the problems in your sector?

Unfortunately the people who want to approach embroidery or lace-making have no legal coverage. There is no such thing as the professional embroiderer, nor is there recognized certification anywhere in Italy. As a consequence, there is a proliferation of schools with teachers who are without adequate training, which is something that damages the sector.
And then young people are not educated to perceive the beauty of things made by hand, and the pleasure of creating something new and well-made. Or they might be enthusiastic, but can’t manage to see concrete job prospects: lace-makers don’t have official billing systems, but are often paid on the side. Many great fashion firms that once commissioned jobs in Italy now get their embroidery done in countries like India.

What do you think the future holds for this profession?

Job prospects are few, but luckily a new desire to make things well by hand is growing, especially in the smaller towns. In Milan, there is little time to dedicate oneself to such long work, and there’s not very much buying power on the part of clients. I think it would be a great step ahead if lace or embroidery were to be taught in the schools. Our experience tells us that children between seven and nine years of age are very receptive and learn more quickly than adults.