September is National Sewing Month. Every Wednesday in September to celebrate I’m sharing a sewing-related tip/post.
Last weekend my sister, Pat and I took a road trip to the East Bay—to Berkeley, California. Our destination was Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles, one of the best-kept secrets around.
Lacis is a strange mix of retail, museum, and history lesson. The place sprawls out over three rooms and two levels, covering more than 6,000 square feet at Ashby Avenue and Adeline Street near the Ashby BART station. Lacis (the retail store) was founded in 1965 by Kaethe and Jules Kliot. It was operated by Kaethe Kliot until her passing in 2002. Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles was established in October, 2004 to preserve her memory.
The Kliots spent over 40 years collecting, preserving, and obsessing over lace. They collected hundreds of samples of this delicate textile, which are on permanent display at the shop. Their collection forms the core of the museum and includes rare pieces from pre-Colombian Peru, labor-intensive, handmade examples from 17th century European courts, and machine laces from the 19th century.
The store/museum is open from noon to 6 PM. We arrived in the middle of the afternoon and found metered parking right in front of the shop. In the front windows are parasols, dresses, lacy gloves, doilies, hats, and various other knickknacks. Inside, historical items are displayed thru out the store. Vintage lace, chiffon, and silk dresses, as well as a collection of crinolines, hang from the high ceiling. A display case by the cash register houses vintage beaded bags. There are shelves and shelves of vintage tablecloths and other linens.
Lacis is also the place to find buttons, ribbons, trims, hard-to-find threads from Japan, and other rarities such as horn thimbles. The bookstore stocks thousands of titles on costume design and textiles. But the lace is the star! The shop houses hundreds of bolts of lace. They have it in any style, color, material, and era. They have handmade, crochet, machine-made, antique, and beaded!
We browsed the store for over an hour marveling at the. (I needed some lace to repair a nightgown.) I commented to the saleswoman who was helping me that I had heard that there were docent tours of the museum. She said that if we were interested she would call the owner and he would come and do the tour for us. She assured me that he would want to give the tour himself and that he was not too far away.
After a very short wait, a charming, gracious gentleman introduced himself to us. He was Jules Kliot, who took over the executive duties of running the shop after his wife passed away. We learned lace reached its prime in 17th and 18th century France after Louis XIV brought in expert lace makers from Italy and set them to work for his court. Lace became more precious than fine jewelry at the time.
We spent our time on the tour in the Tatting exhibit. Tatting is a technique for handcrafting a particularly durable lace from a series of knots and loops. Jules explained that it was a relatively new handicraft dating back only to the early 1800’s. It had died out by 1920 when Art Deco can into vogue and Tatting can be used to make lace edging as well as doilies, collars, accessories such as earrings and necklaces, and other decorative pieces. The lace is formed by a pattern of rings and chains formed from a series of knots and gaps (called picots.) Jules demonstrated tatting for us. To make the lace, the tatter wraps a single thread around one hand and manipulates the shuttle with the other hand. No tools other than the thread, the hands and the shuttle are used.
We were familiar with tatting. Our mother had done it in the 1940’s and we had seen some of the things she had made but the displays in the exhibit of the things they are currently doing with tatting was incredible.
The Museum is amazing, and few experiences compare to spending an hour in conversation with the owner/curator.
A few highlights:
The museum: There are rotating special exhibits, featuring some interesting historic needlework style or item. The tatting exhibit will be there until April 1st, 2017.
The antiques: There are many antique textiles, supplies, and tools for sale — as well as many just-for-display items. A person could never see everything in Lacis in one visit.
The supplies: So many threads in every thicknesses, colors, prices. Whatever your needle-based project, they seem to have the supplies. Then there are the supplies to work with the threads—everything from needles and hooks, to shuttles and bobbins. They have a lot of amazing obscure little items that are very reasonably priced – like bone needle boxes and lace parasols.
The laces: These are the stars! Incredible laces in any style, color, material, or era.
The library: There is an impressive selection of books for sale and they’re very well organized. There is a section for any and every genre of fiber-related craft. I could spend hours in their book room alone.
Classes: Where else can you learn bobbin lace? Tatting? Old-fashioned hat making? Corset making? Lacis has either had a class on this or will have one!