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Bargain Hunting for Italian Handicrafts

If you're planning your vacation this holiday, consider Venice – a collector's paradise.

The beautiful canals, endless cobblestone pathways, and inviting pedestrian bridges of Venice play host to more than 20 million visitors every year. As Italy’s most expensive city, Venice is a major attraction in the Mediterranean for its history, art and architecture.

Among other things, Venice is famous for the Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) and its byzantine cathedral as well as the Doge’s Palace where masterpieces by Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto adorn the walls. The city is known for the famous Peggy Guggenheim Collection featuring modern works of art by Max Ernst, Alexander Calder and Jackson Pollock. Visitors know the city’s singing gondoliers, Andrea Palladio’s San Giorgio Maggiore church and the Italian tradition where art reigns supreme.

Venice’s 118 surrounding islands include the famed island of Murano — a major glassblowing center dating back to the 1200s and the fishing village of Burano. Burano is known for its pastel townhouses and centuries-old lace making tradition.  

Burano is a quiet hide-away and a shopper’s paradise. You can bargain with ease and go home with truly lovely examples of Venetian artistry in the form of hand-made blouses, tablecloths, tea towels, etc.

I advise that when collecting hand-made pieces of Venetian glass or delicate lace native to the area is to window shop in Murano and then buy in Burano. Many glass pieces are the same quality as those sold in Murano and the prices are much better in Burano. While glass in Burano is cheap, lace isn’t. The detail and workmanship evident in Burano-made lace is breathtaking. The miniscule stitches and beautiful designs are captivating. This art form references the work of many artisans, mainly women, who spend hours making lace. An authentic Burano tablecloth may cost as much as several hundred dollars and as a collectible, worth every penny.

What makes a good piece of lace? The condition of the material, complexity of the design, quality of the thread, consistency of the stitching and overall design all contribute to a superior piece of lace.

Keep lace and other textiles away from the oils on your hands. Store lace out of wooden drawers as wood will off gas and tan or darken your white lace. It is best to store lace wrapped in another piece of plain, white cotton cloth or display it on a table out of direct sunlight.

When taking advantage of Italy’s art objects, do your homework and shop smart.

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