The label that denotes exceptional lace fabrics in France


Lace work from Calais and from Caudry owes its reputation to the production of exceptional fabric woven on Leavers machines. These weaving crafts came over from England and were introduced into France at the start of the 19th century. The ‘Dentelle de Calais Caudry’® mark, owned by the Fédération Française des Dentelles et Broderies, allows everyone to distinguish between luxury lace woven in Calais and in Caudry and knitted lace that is much more common. It certifies the unique method developed on the Leavers machine and the savoir-faire of French lace makers. Today, the lace manufacturers of Calais and Caudry mostly work in the lingerie and haute-couture markets respectively. 

Cité de la Dentelle©Lescoflocs

Despite the name, very few, even among the fashion elite, are aware that this delicate textile hails from Calais.

Enter the Cité de la Dentelle et de la Mode, centre for Lace and Fashion.

Housed in a 19th-century lace factory, the museum unspools the town’s lacemaking history and the craft’s modern legacy. Weave past intricately-patterned frocks, displays of lingerie and unfurled fans; leaf through swatch books; and pore over a striking collection of diaphanous trims before watching a small band of dentelliers at work, expertly looping threads onto the same Leavers looms smuggled over from England in the 1800s.

Workshops, classes and exhibitions at France’s leading lace museum

As well as classes for beginners and intermediate lessons in making lace by hand, La Cité organises creative workshops for children, teenagers and adults. In conjunction with temporary exhibitions and events, these workshops focus on the creation of lace, as well as its quirkier and less well-known uses. These also provide the opportunity for special encounters with artists, designers and professionals in the world of couture. 

A practical workshop at Calais’s lace museum

We try our hand at making bobbin lace in Calais 

One brisk autumnal morning, we set out for the Cité de la Dentelle et de la Mode, a museum that has been established within a former 19th century lace manufacturing site in Calais. 

Today, it is not a visit in the classic sense of the word that draws us here. La Cité offers a wide range of creative workshops and we have decided to try out one of them: bobbin lace is one of the techniques for making lace by hand. Now I have to admit that neither of us is known for our manual skills. Never mind, we get stuck in all the same! 

Cite de la dentelle de Calais©Yannick Cadart-CD62
Cite de la dentelle de Calais©Yannick Cadart-CD62

Upon arrival, we are led into one of the workshops that have been set up on the first floor of the building, a space with glass walls filled with the creations of previous classes. The original floor and coloured windows of the old factory give the venue a convivial feel. Isabelle Gruson, trained in lace work and embroidery in Bruges, greets us.  Warm and enthusiastic, she is the kind of person that instantly puts you at ease. Lace has always been her life. For many years she reproduced ancient motifs in order to keep alive this savoir-faire, which had begun to be forgotten following the arrival of mechanical processes. She now conveys her passion at classes that are arranged by La Cité de la Dentelle et de la Mode. 

Cité Dentelle©Yannick Cadart-CD62

In the workshop itself, five other people are already there and are concentrating on their work. Skill levels vary. Some of them are first-timers, while others have been taking classes here for years. Isabelle adapts her teaching to suit each student, offering advice, correcting mistakes. Conversation and assistance come naturally.  

Our instructor hands us a square board upon which are around twenty bobbins and threads that are ready to use. Whilst we initially feel a little overwhelmed with the task at hand, we soon realise that the technique is relatively simple: three points, two movements and a little bit of concentration allow her to produce a delicate fabric. After a short demonstration, it’s our turn! Cross, twist, cut… the stitches start to come together, the actions become automatic after a few minutes. The soft sounds of the wooden bobbins on the board mix with the faraway voices of other visitors. 

Totally absorbed in our work, we are in our own little bubble. Bobbin lace has a calming quality that we hadn’t at first appreciated. Our eyes are fixed on our board and we almost fail to notice the time pass. After a morning following Isabelle’s instructions, we have managed to produce 10cm of lace work each. We will definitely be back again soon to try out another workshop! 

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