Craftsmanship of Alençon needle lace-making

Inscribed in 2010 (5.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Country(ies): France



Craftsmanship of Alençon needle lace-making

The technique of point d’Alençon is a rare technique of needle lace-making, practised in the town of Alençon in Normandy in north-west France. Alençon needle lace is unusual because of the high level of craftsmanship required and the very long time that it takes to produce (seven hours per square centimetre). The pieces of openwork textile using the technique are used for decorative purposes in civil and religious life. The piece is made up of design elements held together by a finely stitched net. Its process comprises a number of successive stages: drawing and pricking of the design on parchment, creating the outline of the design and the background netting, then the typical stitching of the patterns, shading with filling stitches, decorating with designs, and embroidering to create relief. Then the lace is removed from the parchment with a razor blade; trimmed and, finally, the filling stitches are polished with a lobster claw. Each Alençon lace-maker knows how to complete all the stages of the process – knowledge that can only be transmitted through a practical apprenticeship. To fully master Alençon needle lace-making requires seven to ten years of training. The learning method relies on a close relationship between the specialized lace-maker and the apprentice, and is exclusively based on oral transmission and practical teaching.


Decision 5.COM 6.13

The Committee (…) decides that [this element] satisfies the criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, as follows:

  • R.1: The craftsmanship of Alençon needle lace-making is recognized by the people of Alençon as a symbol of their identity that has been transmitted from generation to generation;
  • R.2: Its inscription on the Representative List could contribute to reinforcing respect for similar crafts, while promoting intercultural dialogue and human creativity;
  • R.3: A coherent set of safeguarding measures, including documentation, research, transmission and promotion activities, testifies to the commitment of lace-makers and the State to ensure the viability of their craftsmanship;
  • R.4: The nomination reflects the wide and active participation of members of the community in its elaboration, and they have provided their free, prior and informed consent;
  • R.5: The craftsmanship of Alençon needle lace-making is inscribed in the inventory of intangible cultural heritage of France, established by the Mission of Ethnology of the Ministry of Culture.



© ACCAAN, 2003

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