When textile-arts student Elena Kanagy-Loux decided she wanted to learn how to make lace, she ran into a problem. The only classes she could find were in New Jersey—a two-hour trip from her home in Brooklyn—or way upstate in Ithaca, NY, a distance twice as far. So she took the next logical step—she traveled to Idrija, a tiny town in Slovenia known for its lace making, to study with the masters.
“This was back in 2011,” the 31-year-old explains, “and that was the only place that came up when I searched for ‘lace school.’” Things have changed quite a bit since then, due in no small part to Kanagy-Loux herself, who has become something of a lace evangelist. Today, she gives presentations about the history of lace, offers classes in lacemaking, and started the Brooklyn Lace Guild. “I’m always trying to get people to join our cult…I mean, guild,” she jokes.
Kanagy-Loux specializes in bobbin lace, which is just one way that lace can be made—there is also needle lace, tape lace, tatted lace, and many others. In bobbin lace, lengths of very thin cotton, linen, or silk thread are wound around wooden bobbins—about the size of half a pencil—and then twisted and re-twisted in an intricate dance, with pins placed here and there to help shape the work. Beginners might use 12 to 24 pairs of bobbins, but advanced workers may require hundreds, some over 1,000, to make their lacey creations.
“Creating lace is magical; it’s almost like a form of witchcraft.”ADVERTISEMENT
“Creating lace is magical; it’s almost like a form of witchcraft,” Kanagy-Loux explains. “And you’re making something that is relatively useless; you just hang it on the wall.” Still, she says, she finds lacemaking “physically addictive,” and is on a mission to get more people to take up the craft. Just don’t call it a revival. “Lacemaking has never been dead or lost; it is still being made. It just doesn’t have good PR. I’m trying to be the PR campaign for lace.” Part of that is making people more aware of the material itself. “I want to expand people’s minds beyond the frothy tulle we think of as lace,” she says.
Raised in rural Pennsylvania, Kanagy-Loux’s mother taught her to crochet and embroider to keep her quiet in church. The family soon moved to Tokyo, Japan, where her grandparents worked as Mennonite missionaries. It was there that her love of fashion, and lace, first took hold. “We had to wear uniforms to school six days a week, so Sunday was the only day we could dress up. We’d try to wear a week’s worth of outfits in one day,” she says. The colorful and almost doll-like Harajuku style was just taking hold, and Kanagy-Loux found herself swept up in it. “I wore a lot of vintage out of necessity; I couldn’t afford the $300 Lolita outfits.”
From there she went on to study fiber arts in Montreal and textile design in New York at FIT, where in 2015 she won a grant that allowed her to study lace in 14 countries and at 7 lace schools. It’s all part of her desire to help elevate the status of lace as an art form. “Lace used to be valued more highly than painting,” she explains. “Louis XIV would spend more on handmade lace cuffs than on a painting. The cuffs could take a year or two to make, the painting maybe a month. The way we value art over craft these days is a recent innovation, that came about only in the 19th century with the establishment of a historical art canon.” In fact, she says, art historians know very little about lace, and nothing about it is taught in most university textile and fiber-arts programs.
But Kanagy-Loux’s own admiration for the intricate, delicate material may come down to something much more personal. “I love how feminine lace is,” she says. “I always had a hyper-femme aesthetic, and from bridal veils to lingerie to grandma doilies, lace is the ultimate feminine textile.”
By Debbie Stoller
Photographed by Winnie Au
This article originally appeared in the April/May 2018 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
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