Lillia’s Lace Museum

Lillia’s Lace Museum, a NZ Museums specialist museum, showcases the history and byways of international and New Zealand lace and lace-making. Its relocation to Geraldine from Upper Moutere a decade ago is also a nod to past local lace-making.

The Talbot Street facility is an eponymous tribute to its owner’s Geraldine-born lace-making grandmother. The way owner Jean Lillia Hall puts it, the women’s genes almost guaranteed they’d practise the art. “My grandmother had seven generations of lace-makers from both parents’ sides”, she says. Museum curation is, however, a departure.

As a young woman already active in spinning and weaving, and working in the inherently lace-y environment of a bridal boutique, true to lineage, Jean began making lace. But, she says, “Once I saw how long it takes to do, that’s when I started to collect it as well. And then I started framing it.” Keeping lace both safe and easy to view is a specialist skill in itself.

The expanding collection that inevitably drew visitors and has continued to grow offers a rich experience. Foremost, it documents the history of lace-making, including national and regional styles and accoutrements, and techniques, and their development.

More, it provides anthropological perspectives. For example, exhibits trace a legible line of design influence from North Africa to South America via Europe. And voice is given to the child and refugee labour that, like production of many sought-after things, is an undertone in parts of lace’s history.

Lillia’s also reveals bobbins’ unexpected and understated roles in recording history. Makers of these essential parts of the bobbin-lace-maker’s craft inscribed, inlaid, and otherwise attached to them religious, political, and personal statements; the large number displayed tell stories for those who look closely.

And of course, the museum also gives the chance to simply appreciate items of lace, from a17th-century sample of rose point to machine-made pieces of commemorative lace, such as that produced for the 1940 New Zealand Centennial Exhibition ( as their patterns were typically destroyed after a run’s completion, they can be rare, ironically).

Jean loves the beauty of hand-made lace, its imperfections containing traces of the people behind it. “You can tell if a human’s made it; there’ll be mistakes. If a machine made it, it’ll be the same all the way through.”

If New Zealand can be said to have a lace style, it’s where hand-making and machine manufacture meet, she says. “I call it New Zealand pioneer lace. It’s machine lace inserted into handmade lace, which helped gain time, I assume. It’s something seen regularly enough to be considered a New Zealand style.”

Lillia’s Lace Museum is at 240A Talbot Street. Call Jean on 693 9312 to arrange viewing. Entry $5; groups of 10 or more $4 per person.

Jan Finlayson

Categories: MuseumsVisitor Attractions