In São Luís you can find small shops selling local crafts everywhere, including Bilro lace pieces. But the great majority of these shops are just resellers. To go direct to the source, I mean, the makers, you need to travel at least 2 hours in public transportation, from the city center of São Luís until Raposa, more to the island northeast. It’s a very tiresome trip, but it’s worth it! Another option, much faster, is to go by taxi, but of course it’s much more expensive (check the options at the end of the post).
The place is very poor and many of the houses are on palaphitas, with the shops turned to the main street and the artisans houses on the back of the shops, on the same house. At the end of the street there is a beach with dunes, where you can only get there by boat.
The Bilro lace arrived in Brazil with the portuguese colonisation, and in Raposa, at the middle 50’s, with the migration of fisherman and their family from Ceará because of the dry period that they were facing there. The lace was an alternative to increase their family income as fishing is a seasonal activity. The lace making was such a success that it became a cultural tradition which is passed from generation to generation and exhibit on Raposa’s main street very proudly.
The variety of pieces found there is great: Ready to buy, there are dresses, tops and other garment pieces (these are mostly unique samples, not been easy to find more than one of the same). Besides the garments, it is also possible to find yokes and pannels for appliqué (these, more easy to find more than 1 piece of the same kind) and fabrics, that can be cut to make new pieces. Anyway, if you don’t find exactly what your looking for or want to make a development from a tech pack as starting point, they do take custom orders.
The lace maker Onaciana, for instance, told me that she has even made bride gowns! She works with lace making for 25 years now and has learned the activity with her grandmother. Nowadays she works with a group of lace makers and is able to deliver bigger orders without a problem. Besides, she’s one of the few that make the lace design, because most of the workers knows the weaving technique but needs someone to make the design for them to follow. Ms Maria, another lace maker, works by her own, but has the help of her granddaughter, Thais, to whom she has teached the technique since she was very young.
The prices vary accordingly to stitches and the time spent to make each style. Anyway they are very cheap for such a rich detailed work. You can find tops from $10 and dresses for $22!! Yokes from $2 and the fabric for $32 (width of 1,80 meters).