Belgian Embroidery

The Belgians are known for more than waffles and chocolates. I’d never been to Belgium before and frankly, had suspected the whole Belgian waffle thing to be a convenient affectation we’d popularized in the states but nope, waffles are sold on every street corner. With whipped cream, chocolate syrup and sugared fruits, just like here. Amazing.

Belgians are known for laces and embroideries too. Did you know? I love this stuff, used to do it as a hobby. Smocking is common too. Here’s some samples. The samples below are a bias tubing, joined together with cotton thread in a variety of patterns.

I’m not so wild on the application. I love the process but throwing into a sport shirt just seems to cheapen it for me. Here’s a pink top below. I like this design better. Note the embroidered linens and tablecloth in the background. To the right of the pink top is an example of a blouse entirely constructed of joined battenberg lace. That is another long story. Are any of you familiar with this sort of hand work? This is a keen interest of mine and don’t want to go off on it if none of you know anything about it.

In truth, these embroideries aren’t “Belgian” as much as they are regional (and common to France and Luxembourg too). This sort of traditional hand work, what has come to be called “heirloom embroidery” in the U.S., is still common there. The labels say “made in Belgium” (and “made in France”) but I’m wondering how true that is… if the Belgians (and the French) play as fast and loose with their labeling laws as we do “in” the United States, it’s likely those embroidered “made in Belgium” embroideries are made in an island colony off the coast of Africa. I mean, why should we have all the fun? The prices of the goods I saw were very reasonable; not nearly as expensive as one would imagine the cost of labor of a continentally residing Belgian to exact.

Below is an example of smocking. To the right is a closeup of the detail. Products like this were very common in Brussels.

I found this awesome zipper resource I have to tell you about next but I’m tired. It’s really late here. I’ve been on the train -it seems like all day- and the wifi wasn’t working. Now I’m in Stuttgart visiting our friends Sean and Patty who are also originally from El Paso and or New Mexico. Here’s a picture of them.

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  1. Leslie Wiberg says:


    I lived in Austria for a few years and the pastries and fabrics were absolutely delicious (in Austria and most places we traveled). I miss them still.

    The fabrication on the lace is exquisite. I love it when you post when you are traveling.

    Thanks, Leslie

  2. Lisa B. in Portland says:

    I think all that is really cool. I think the first shirt would look cool over a contrasting shell with a pretty skirt or nice slacks. Yes, it does cheapen the craft, but that’s about the coolest shirt of that type I’ve ever seen, so it makes the shirt nicer.

  3. sheila says:

    was trying to see if you put any of your trip on your web. hope you bring back info and ideas to smock for riley. i have always loved smocking. sean looks great!!

  4. Zaz says:

    hello :)

    you forgot the french fries which are belgian to begin with.
    i’ve had shirt after shirt in white in cotton. the work was not the same at all as it was just the bias stitched onto a white fabric then cut to make a shirt out of. these were my “what shall i wear for dinner” shirts.
    i seriously hate the pink one and would wear the white one easy was it lined with this thin cotton lining i forgot the name of.

    is this irish lace in the last photo?

  5. Ann K says:

    I recently saw a jacket bought at Nordstrom’s and made entirely like the bias-tubing shirt in the first picture. I marveled at how well it was constructed, and at the tag which said ‘Made In China’!

  6. Zaz says:

    oops i forgot something: the french “colonies”, the DOM TOMs, as you call them are france, they would not like to not have the french citizenship. it’s not that i have a colonial mind or something but they ARE french and they don’t want to be named “non-french” just because of the color of their skin.

    ps: i did buy two of those smocked dresses off a booth, a woman from the french islands was selling them at a very low price, i wanted one for myself too but she said that no one ever wears those where she lives, she said they wear “european-style” clothes. what a shame…

  7. Kaaren Hoback says:

    I love smocking, bobbin lace, the turned tube applications and have dabbled with it all at one time or another. The hand work as art or craft is very relaxing. I was lucky enough to purchase a set of antique Belgian bobbins from my former teacher now retired,just need a new pillow and to “find them”.

    Thanks for sharing!


  8. Karen C says:

    Wow, all that handwork is just beautiful! I didn’t know it was bias tubing, but I’ve always adored that type of application. Kathleen, any time you want to write further about lace or bias tubing, I’m all eyes.

    Hope your cold and foot gets better.

  9. Christy B. says:

    Aww, my mom used to make me smocked dresses when I was little. I didn’t like them at the time but now it looks sweet. Great photos!

  10. Heather says:

    The Belgians are known for their chocolates all right, like selling hands made of chocolate in their stores. If you know about their atrocities in Africa you would know what those chocolate hands mean. The gall of those people!!!

    Say hi to Stuttgart, I am up North approx. 700km away from you. Too bad you are so far away.
    Enjoy the city and have your friends take you to see the museums around that side.

  11. Moushka says:

    The laces and smocking are beautiful. Wonderful to see that it’s still popular in Europe. I think smocked clothing is perfect for children and am making rompers for my grandson, although my smocking is nothing to write home about. DD is more into “little man” type clothing that looks like miniatures of what his father wears. I maintain he will be wearing adult styles for decades, let him wear the baby stuff while he has the chance! I like the white blouse. I must try the bias tubes one day. That lace would make a gorgeous ringbearer’s pillow for a wedding. Any time you want to talk about laces and heirloom sewing, I’m all ears, too!

  12. Zaz says:

    still, it is called dentelle de bruges after the city in belgium, this form of it with a cordonnet and stitches to assemble them.
    cordonnet could be bought (here it’s modern bias) some women used to crochet galons (cordonnets) at home then assemble them.
    i’s like a link on how to assemble using crochet if anyone knows of any please?!

    thank you.

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