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“Spiderweb Lace”—Paraguay’s Fascinating Handicraft

“Spiderweb Lace”—Paraguay’s Fascinating Handicraft

 “Spiderweb Lace”—Paraguay’s Fascinating Handicraft


ASUNCIÓN, PARAGUAY. Our bags are being unloaded, so we have a few minutes to look around. My wife suddenly pulls me over to a wall display. “Isn’t that gorgeous!” she exclaims, pointing to a beautiful lace tablecloth with a very intricate design. Immediately she wonders how it was made.

Spiderweb lace originated in Arabia. According to the book Paraguay, Touristic and General Information, “it was taken to the Canary Islands and to Spain, and between the 17th and 18th centuries, it was brought to Paraguay, where the so-called sun lace from Tenerife took the name Paraguayan lace, or nanduti.” In Paraguay this delicate lace took on the lace maker’s personal touch, and the characteristics of local vegetation and animals were incorporated into the design. Although the lace is not a local invention, Paraguayans did enhance their lace with new stitches. Lace weaving has become the livelihood of many natives.

How do they manufacture this intricate lace that resembles a spiderweb? To help us learn the answer, our guide took us 18 miles [30 km] east of Asunción to the small town of Itauguá. He told us that much of Paraguay’s spiderweb lace is produced in this area. Indeed, many woven articles are on display in stores along the main street.

The owner of one store greeted us warmly and showed us some attractive items. She explained: “Handmade lace is classified according to the way it is made. Spiderweb lace is a needlepoint lace. Most Paraguayan lace makers memorize their designs, though others use patterns. They all use a piece of cotton cloth in a wooden frame and make the lace with needle and thread. They learn this craft from their mothers at an early age and then teach it to their children.”

The orb weaver spider takes only two or three hours to spin a web. “It takes from two to three months to make a tablecloth with eight settings when coarse thread is used. To make the same tablecloth from fine thread takes about six to eight months,” said our hostess. “The finer the thread, the more beautiful the result.”

As she holds up a white lace doily, she explains: “It has a center design of the guava tree flower, and these threads have to be counted as it is being made. This design is the most difficult to make, and it takes two weeks to make with fine thread. Originally lace makers only used fine thread and all the lace was very expensive. Therefore, many lace makers began to use coarse thread in order to make items faster and to make them less costly.”

Multicolored and white place mats, tablecloths, doilies, coasters, and other household items were on display. When we asked about clothes, our hostess quickly brought out a typical dress, belonging to her daughter, of which she was obviously very proud. It was a beautiful rainbow-hued, full dress. In other stores, we found some well-made postcards containing fine lace. It is no wonder that spiderweb lace is considered Paraguay’s most famous handicraft.

 [Full-page picture on page 18]