Tips to help you buy traditional lace during your travel in Sri Lanka
Lace-making was introduced to Sri Lanka when the Portuguese and Dutch colonised the island. Now, this delicate and intricate work is part of Sri Lankan tradition. It is a thriving cottage industry employing a lot of people, most of them women, that is exported all over the world as Beeralu lace or Galle lace.
The process is time consuming. It can take up to a week for a single weaver to make lace measuring one metre by one-inch. First, the weavers make a stencil (Esbisalaya) on cardboard using graph paper. This pattern is then traced on a rotating structure (the pillow or beeralu kotte). Later over 30 bobbins are used to create the knots that make up the desired distinctive design.
In Galle, lace making is a family business. The craft is taught to the younger girls of the family by the elders. This lace is used to make cushion covers, table clothes and dress trims. Designs include the modern Bruges variety combined with elephant and turtle motifs. Lace workers generally make their products from home, wearing jackets with lace trim (kabakurutthu). Sometime they can also produce crochet works.
Most shops selling traditional Sri Lankan or Beeralu lace are confined to areas in and around Galle. Small shops or co-operatives owned by women will be happy to sell you delicate fabric trim or other decorative pieces.