“I love lace in any form because for me, it is one of the most modern as well as ancient textiles . . .”
Two contrasting perspectives inform this exhibition’s title. In the first, lace is an exalted handmade commodity signifying the wealth, taste, and prestige of its wearers—men and women at the pinnacle of the European social hierarchy from the sixteenth century onward. In the second, lace shows us the unequal balance of power between those who design, sell, and wear lace and the lacemakers themselves. Surviving examples of costly handmade lace thus enable us to envision the material worlds of the powerful, as well as connect us to the lives of the highly skilled, poorly paid lacemaking women whose names are no longer known to us. Crafted from expensive materials like linen and silk thread, and incorporating many hours of painstaking labor, early lace proved so inherently valuable that it was passed down through generations and modified when fashions changed. Since the mid-nineteenth century, antique lace patterns have been faithfully copied using machine technologies. The threads of lace thus link past and present and trace a network that runs through cities, nations, empires, and continents. Throughout the five centuries since its inception, despite transformations in use, form, fashion, and manufacture, lace has persisted as a global textile.
St. Gallen, located in eastern Switzerland, has been an important center of textile production since the fifteenth century. The city is home to the Textilmuseum St. Gallen, established in 1878, which houses an extensive collection of historical lace, thanks in large part to early twentieth-century donations from Leopold Iklé (1838–1922), a local textile manufacturer. Drawing on this rich repository, Threads of Power traces the history of European lace in fashion from its sixteenth-century origins to today.