Work in Progress: Brooklyn Lace Guild
For the month of November, the Brooklyn Lace Guild has brightened up TAC Manhattan as our Work in Progress residents. Founded by lacemakers, Elena Kanagy-Loux and Kaelyn Garcia, the Brooklyn Lace Guild is a recently-formed organization that works to preserve the tradition of hand lacemaking. They are devoted to studying, creating, and spreading various lace techniques, including bobbin lace, needle lace, tatting, crochet, and more. I recently had the chance to sit down with Elena Kanagy-Loux to discuss the roll of community in lacemaking, the importance of slow process, and her own experiences with lacemaking in New York and abroad.
On her early experiences with lace making:
“When I was young, my mom taught me to sew, and my grandma taught me to quilt. I loved weaving, and embroidery, I was always very interested in textiles as an art form, and continued on to study textile design at FIT. I basically tried everything I could get my hands on, and at a certain point you just sort of run out of things to try. Lace is kind of like the last bastion of textiles—that’s the end of the row. Lace just started to fascinate me.”
“Also, I’m such a frou-frou person, I love all the girly, ruffle-y stuff and I wore so much lace but didn’t really know too much about it. We don’t see lace represented too much, even in the fiber and textiles world, so in 2011 I started to look for teachers. I took classes with Holly Van Sciver in Ithaca (she is amazing!), and then began looking for lace schools. The first lace school I found was actually in Idrija, Slovenia, where they also have a lace festival. So I quit my job in 2012 to go to Slovenia. I didn’t know what I was doing, I had never been to Europe, but I went on this lace journey by myself. I came home having only learned pretty basic skills, and since then have been continuing to learn.”
On the origins of the Brooklyn Lace Guild:
“The Brooklyn Lace Guild is a lace success story! When I was an intern at TAC, I actually took a bobbin lace class with Kaelyn Garcia, and we later went on to found the guild together this past May. We have fantastic members like Alex Goldberg, Manca Alin, Etta Sandry, Ellyane Hutchinson, Cynthia Madsen, Kathleen Collins, Devon Thein, and Crystal Gregory.”
“Guilds are a very typical way that the lace community functions. It’s definitely more structured as a craft. Because the knowledge of lacemaking is so scarce, most lacemaking in the world at this point operates in guilds or community centers where you can meet up as a group and hire teachers to come teach you, or work on projects together. That was just something we always wanted to establish here, so that we could bring people together and share it.”
On the different lace techniques:
“The two main categories of traditional lace are bobbin lace and needle lace. Bobbin lace is what I specialize in. I have studied needled lace as well but haven’t gotten as far in it—but I do aspire to learn more in the future! Needle lace is considered to be the older form of lace (although that is all disputed), which originated in Venice. Needle lace is more like freeform embroidery. Bobbin lace is Flemish in origin (again, disputed) and is more commonplace in guilds that I have seen. Bobbin lace is more my specialty and is more related to weaving. You work with a pillow and bobbins, and you hang your threads from pins and then cross and twist the bobbins in patterns. It sounds so complicated and looks so complicated, but it’s not, I swear! There are children in Idrija, Slovenia, who are like six and can make beautiful lace, so you know, it just takes patience.”
On the role of lace in contemporary society:
“Craft has totally had a resurgence lately. I’ve seen that with all the people coming in to take classes at TAC — I feel like it could be a really good time for lace. I think that lace could be hugely successful as a hobby in the US and in regions that didn’t necessarily always have it because it is so polar opposite to everything we do today. I think that we exist in extremes. Our entertainment is rapid fire, like three second memes, and we are on social media, and doing all these things that are so high tech, and we are so connected but also so detached. I feel like lace makes a lot of sense for someone like me who is this crazy New York person who runs around all day, because it’s meditative.”
On the idea of process over product:
“I love that lace is super meditative and allows me to use my brain in a way that I don’t normally. I think that’s also why I’ve gravitated to bobbin lace. Bobbin lace is almost like the way a computer path functions—you have to get bobbins from one place to another, and you have to figure out how to do that most efficiently (it makes sense that one of the earliest computer based machines was a lace machine). I think [the process] is really satisfying and special, and unique. The process is huge for me. The process is almost more important for me than the finished product.”
On her most memorable experience with lace:
“Every memory is my favorite memory with lace. It’s just been so magical. Oh man, there are so many good ones! Just being in Burano island, which is the little island off of Venice, this magical corner of the universe where every building is painted a different color of the rainbow. Just walking around and seeing lace everywhere and then getting to take a class from a woman who has been making lace for 60 years and doesn’t speak a word of English — and the fact that we were still able to perfectly communicate and understand each other through lace and through gesture, oh it was so magical. When I was traveling, I showed up in Bruges and had just freshly dyed my hair turquoise and their first reaction was “see lace makers are cool!” and I was like, “yeah we are cool!” Everywhere I went people were so welcoming and excited to share.”
And lastly, some advice for those new to the lace community:
“Don’t be intimidated. Of course people struggle with it, but so did I. I always bring my first lace sample to my classes because I want people to see how awful it is. I think I’m going to frame it. You know, if you’re attracted to it, pick it up! Some people pick it up quickly, and some people struggle at first, but both are successful. Don’t be scared by seeing the lady with a thousand bobbins because you won’t do that for a long time. So don’t worry!”
All photos by Olivia Zisman.
Want to be a part of the Brooklyn Lace Guild?
If you’re a textile artist or designer, applications for the next session of the Work In Progress residency are now open! Learn more about the program and how to apply here.