Embroidery: The Extraordinary of Needle and Spirit at Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles

This piece of embroidery looks like the work of a taxidermist, not the work of someone with a needle and a piece of thread. Image source.

With the onslaught of fog, wind, and rain that we like to call fall weather in Berkeley, you may be looking for a cozy get-away if that Pumpkin Spice latte just isn’t doing the trick. Look no further than the Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles, mere blocks away from campus. The current exhibit on embroidery is a cozy enclave that displays both history and art, personal story and expression.

Smelling like grandma’s house—the combination of polished wood floors and old, well-loved rugs and fabrics producing a rather nostalgic scent—the exhibit includes several panels, wall hangings, clothing fragments, and other embroidered fabrics that span many centuries, countries, languages and themes.

Each piece of embroidery is accompanied with a small magnifying glass, all the better to see the extraordinary detailing. And the details are extremely intricate. Perusing through the exhibit is like going on a scavenger hunt looking for the painstaking attention to individual stitches and minute designs.

One example—a panel from 1850s Japan featuring birds fighting—was lifelike through and through, each bird appearing as if it was covered in real feathers. Another embroidery, displaying an old man near a river, was also admirably intricate. The subject’s face was so realistically lined and wrinkled that the patch looked more like a photograph than an amalgamation of threads.

A placard greets visitors as they enter the exhibit. It begins, “Decoration or embellishment of our own surroundings and ourselves must be regarded as an integral part of the human spirit.” This message undoubtedly resonates with any fashion-concerned individual, but it also provides an important commentary on the fashion industry.

As one employee at the museum informed me, while some of the embroideries were done in leisure and not for profit, many of the pieces were made in factories or in industry where workers were forced to quickly finish products that would be sold for a profit (a profit they did not see). This reminder was significant to me because I find myself sometimes having romanticized notions of the fashion industry. While fashion may be an art form and a pristine method in which individuals can express themselves, I too often forget what leads to a garment appearing on the runway or on a clothing rack.

The exhibit at the Lacis Museum is a rich synthesis of history and individuality. It is as thought provoking as it is comforting and enjoyable. With admission to the museum being free, the exhibit is the perfect rainy day activity. Open until February 1st, 2011, you have plenty of opportunities—and rainy days—to visit this perfectly put-together display of patchwork and detail.

Scott Hovdey
BARE Reporter

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