I am currently working on a study of traditional Puerto Rican bobbin lace making, known as mundillo.
Mundillo is a practice with a two-hundred year-old history that involves invasions, migrations and social changes that impacted society, gender and technology. Moca, a small town on the west side of Puerto Rico, is considered El Capital del Mundillo.
What I enjoy most about the history of mundillo is that it affords a means of making the labor of women visible, not only through text, but through the oral histories that I have been collecting. It involves narratives of survival, skill and of knowledge passed on through family members or associates.
This practice is not restricted to women, however. There are men who make lace, just as there are women who are instrument makers (guitars, cuatros, etc.) or santeras, carvers of saints. Often, mundillo is a family affair, with women making lace on mundillos using bolillos- the lap boxes and wooden bobbins used to create the lacework- made by men. Often, women (or men) were taught by their mothers, grandmothers or aunts.
In the 18th-19th centuries, needlework was the purview of accomplished young women, and in Puerto Rico, needlework was taught in private schools run by nuns of the Catholic Church. Mundillo also became part of this education by the early 2oth century. The waves of immigration to Puerto Rico brought many people from countries with a lace tradition– Spain, France, Belgium, Italy, Corsica, Malta, Germany among other places. During the late 18th century, the slave uprisings on Saint Domingue, and later, the Real Cedula de Gracias of 1815 brought many persons from France who settled on the west side of the island. Mundillo was also practiced in Cuba, and while the islands of Puerto Rico, Cuba and Santo Domingo were under Spanish rule, administrators and their families moved from one island to another to undertake government appointments during the nineteenth century. The blending of traditions continued.
There is a Museo del Mundillo in Moca, of which I am the Curator. You can visit the museum’s webpage at http://www.museodelmundillo.org
It’s estimated that some 9,000 persons across Puerto Rico make mundillo.