Monika Knutsson fashions exquisite jewelry through the magic of dipping antique or vintage lace into 24 karat gold, sterling silver, white gold, rose gold, or platinum. Each piece is unique, be it cuffs, bangles, earrings, or rings — and more recently, lapel pins and brooches.
“Brooches are really popular right now,” Knutsson says. “It’s a lace container brooch, which can hold flowers or whatever you want. It comes with a long chain that is removable, but can be worn as a necklace.”
Knutsson begins her process by selecting which section of lace to use. When making her heirloom jewelry, she takes great care in cutting away as little as possible from the lace, honoring the original patterns. In Knutsson’s hands, giant flowers become spectacular earrings. The angular lace corner of a tablecloth becomes a V-shaped necklace. Minute curlicues and tender buds re-emerge as tiny earrings. With the bracelets, Knutsson sews in metal wire to help the work keep its shape and provide extra strength. All the larger jewelry is signed and numbered.
Knutsson’s desire is to honor the work of the women behind these handmade laces, and to give value to them. The allure of lace for her goes back to a tender age. Knutsson’s two grandmothers were lacemakers.
“When my Swedish grandmother passed, no one wanted her lace,” Knutsson explains. “It was out with the old, in with the new. I remember they put all the handiwork in a container, and I asked someone to lift me up and hold me over the container so I could grab as much as possible. I was this little kid, but I remember how upset I was that no one really cared about this work that was handmade and so beautiful.”
Oftentimes, Knutsson said, someone will send her a piece of their wedding dress or a piece of lace they had from their grandmother or great-grandmother. She can create heirlooms for them so that the pieces live on for generations.
Since the stories behind the lace are integral to her jewelry, with each piece one receives a tag carrying the name of the lace, how old it is, where it’s from, and what it was used for, as well as a sample of the original fabric.
“When I buy at flea markets and estate sales, I ask the person selling the lace if they know anything about it,” Knutsson said. “I am like a sponge, getting all the information. I feel that the client who gets it should get this information too.”
The evolution of Knutsson’s process began when she was working for a fashion designer in Paris, collecting lace in flea markets. Knutsson, who was also creating designs of her own at the time, met an artisan who metallicized parts of clothing for runway shows. Knutsson gave him some lace, and he created a cuff.
“It was just amazing,” she recalls. “I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. When you have open lace, you have this contrast between closed and open that’s just gorgeous. It was gathered at the top, and had a three-dimensional quality.”
The next year, after having lived in Paris for nine years, she came back to New York and searched for an artisan to plate the lace. Knutsson kept striking out, she said, as no one wanted to work on the challenge that comes with using an organic material. After much searching, she found a company in Brooklyn that has been around since about 1910. It took a year, but the owner and Knutsson developed a successful process.
“When you plate cotton in these old laces, there are fibers sticking up that you don’t even think about. But when it’s plated, every little fiber becomes like a needle,” Knutsson says. “I had to redo the whole first batch. But I’ve worked out all the kinks, and the quality is very high; it’s been 11 years now.”
Knutsson is based in both Manhattan and Chilmark, where she and her husband first rented a house for a few weeks each summer before moving to Paris. With an Island house of her own now, Knutsson said, “We love the Vineyard! It has incredible beauty. I am from Sweden originally, and the Vineyard gives me a feeling of coming home. My father grew up on a farm, and there are many farms on the Island. We bought the house in 2013, and we feel very lucky to have it. It is a complete antidote to New York City.”
Knutsson is building a workshop space, a jeweler’s loft, in the house, but in the meantime, she is hosting a Nov. 13 open house, which requires having been vaccinated and wearing a face mask, and you can always see her magnificent collections at monikaknutsson.com.
For an invitation to the open house on Saturday, Nov. 13, email firstname.lastname@example.org.