Colorado State University Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising Presents ‘The Intricate Web: Lacemaking, Trade, and Tradition’

Please note the new date and location for the October 4 lecture below, updated Sept. 27.

Colorado State University’s Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising exhibit “The Intricate Web: Lacemaking, Trade, and Tradition” will feature the museum’s internationally renowned Ruth Payne Hellmann lace collection, including rare examples of 17th- and 18th-century lace, and hand- and machine-made lace from the 19th and 20th centuries.

The exhibit traces the history and tradition of lace as a textile embellishment and trade commodity, with a focus on traditional lacemaking techniques, the history and importance of lace in the European and North American textile trade, and the use of lace in historic and contemporary fashion.

The exhibit will open on Thursday, Aug. 29 with a reception, 6-9 p.m., and a lecture at 7 p.m. in 136 UCA Annex, 216 E. Lake St., titled “Lace — A Story in Thread,” featuring guest curator Jo Ann Eurell. The gallery will be open and light refreshments will be served. The Avenir Museum gallery is located on the first floor of the University Center for the Arts, 1400 Remington St., and the exhibit will continue through May 16.

“The exhibition highlights the Hellmann collection with more than 100 pieces on display, as well as lace from private lenders and other pieces from the Avenir Museum’s extensive collection,” said Susan J. Torntore, museum curator. “This exhibition is organized in two parts — the more fragile laces will be removed in January and replaced with garments and accessories from the collection to highlight the use of lace in historic and contemporary fashion.”

The first part of the exhibit is guest curated by Jo Ann Eurell, who has been making and studying lace since 1980. She moved to Fort Collins in 2006 after retiring from the faculty at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. In 2007, she began volunteering at the Avenir Museum, fulfilling a lifelong dream to study textiles. From 2007 to 2012, she worked to organize, identify, catalogue, photograph and write about the lace in the Hellmann collection, and the exhibit is the culmination of her work.

“Lacemaking is an art,” Eurell said. “The lacemaker uses simple thread or fabric to create a web that is ethereal and mysterious. It is a web of contrasts—one time gossamer and light, another dense and heavy. Through the centuries, lace has been coveted and condemned, copied and imitated, smuggled and saved over and over again. The history and tradition—the journey of lace—is as rich as the lace itself.”

Types of lace included in the exhibit include bobbin, needle and embroidered laces, crochet and Irish crochet, tape and Battenberg, tatting, hairpin lace, teneriffe, netting and knitting. The exhibition also features numerous examples of lacemaking tools, equipment, accessories, sample books and references from the extensive Hellmann collection.

The oldest pieces of lace in the exhibit date to the 17th century and represent the three major types of lace:
• a reticella insertion highlights the earliest types of embroidered needle lace made on a fabric ground in Renaissance Italy;
• a highly ornate Italian point de neige fragment, known as the stitch of snow or snowflake, highlights a more delicate style of early needle lace after reticella;
• and a densely patterned lace edging fragment highlights bobbin lace, also called pillow lace, from Flanders, one of the most important centers of early bobbin lace.

The Avenir Museum has more than 4,000 pieces of lace in the permanent collection, including the Ruth Payne Hellmann collection of more than 1,600 pieces which was donated in 2000. Hellmann had a successful career as a chemist and science librarian, but her lifelong passion was for lace and lacemaking. She volunteered for many years as the assistant to the curator of the textiles department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. She was responsible for identifying, cataloging and arranging the lace in the Met’s collection, one of the largest lace collections in the world.

Known as “The Lady of Lace,” she also lectured about lace around the world and created several exhibits, all featuring pieces from her collection and teaching examples she made herself.

Hellmann’s lacemaking talents were nationally recognized; she received several awards for design and execution of her original pieces made using her favorite lacemaking technique of Irish crochet and had several patterns of her designs published in the 1950s.

“We are pleased to feature three key pieces of Hellmann’s own lacemaking, on loan from her family, including one Irish crochet table centerpiece which won the National Crochet Contest in 1951,” Torntore said.

Hellmann’s lace collection was bequeathed to CSU because she wanted it to be used as a study and research collection for others, as it had been for her.

“Hellmann’s collection of lace samples and smaller pieces such as collars, doilies, handkerchiefs and other items reflects her scholarly interest in lace,” Eurell said.

“Hellmann first learned to tat lace as a young girl, and her fascination with lace and lacemaking also is well-represented in the collection and the exhibition, with numerous swatches and samples of designs she was testing. One of her projects, featured in the exhibition, shows how she was analyzing reticella needle lace in order to imitate it using her forté technique of crochet,” Torntore said.

Lecture Series

These lectures occur on select days while an exhibit is installed in the Avenir Museum. All lectures start at 7 p.m. and are free and open to the public.

7 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 29 – Jo Ann Eurell, guest curator, lacemaker, former president of the International Organization of Lace Inc., and longtime Avenir Museum volunteer, opens the exhibition with “Lace–A Story in Thread.” The lecture will take place at 136 UCA Annex, 216 E. Lake St., as part of the exhibit opening, 6-9 p.m., in the Avenir Museum on the first floor of the University Center for the Arts, 1400 Remington St.

7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 4 — Mary Shields, Irish lace expert and vice president of OIDFA (a European lace organization), will present “The Laces of Ireland.” A native of Ireland, Shields first learned the art of lacemaking from her mother. She has taught the technique of Carrickmacross lace for more than 20 years. 136 UCA Annex, 216 East Lake Street.

7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 14 – Susan J. Torntore, Avenir Museum curator, will present “Luxurious Embellishment—A Brief History of Lace,” a discussion of lace in historic fashion. 136 UCA Annex, 216 E. Lake St.

Irish lacemaker Mary Shields will offer a two-day hands-on workshop on Carrickmacross lace. Carrickmacross lace originated as an embroidered lace in Ireland in the early 19th century; it is a type of appliqué work based upon an imitation of Italian needle lace. Carrickmacross lace features naturalistic floral designs and ornamental motifs, such as scallops and scrolling ribbons. Beginning and continuing students welcome. Limited to 20 participants, cost $150, includes materials.

9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5
9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6

136 UCA Annex, 216 E. Lake St. To register for the workshop, contact Megan Osborne at (970) 491-6648, or

The Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising is a part of the Department of Design and Merchandising in the College of Health and Human Sciences at Colorado State University. The Avenir Museum is free and open to the public. See for more information and museum hours.

This exhibition and related programming was made possible, in part, through generous support and funding from CSU’s Lilla B. Morgan Memorial Endowment, the International Organization of Lace Inc., and Drs. Tom and Jo Ann Eurell.