the legacy of

Kaethe Kliot


Kaethe Leutgens was born on February 6th 1930 in Cologne, Germany. Kaethe grew up in a strict European household where learning to be skilled at knitting, crochet, embroidery and other needlecrafts was compulsory and by age 6 she was making her own nightgowns. During WWII Cologne suffered heavily from Allied bombings, unfortunately the bombing would eventually claim more than just her family's possessions, Kaethe lost many of her relatives, including her mother. By the early 1950s she had nobody left and decided it was time to leave Germany. To raise the $1,500 she needed to emigrate, Kaethe feverishly knitted large lace doilies and sold them to American soldiers to bring home to their families.  Later she would call these "the GI doilies." Kaethe traveled extensively after leaving Germany and at the age of 23 she ended up in Windsor, Canada where she met her future husband Jules Kliot, an aspiring Architect from Brooklyn, NY. The two were married shortly after on February 19th, 1955, later that year they moved to Berkeley, California where they raised 4 wonderful children, Perrin, Storrie, Aleso and Tara.

      

In 1964 Kaethe opened a small retail store she called “Some Place” a name taken from the saying “Some Pig” from one of her favorite stories, Charlottes Webb, she knew her store was going to be Some Place, and was it ever…. Kaethe’s original storefront was small narrow space where you could practically touch both walls with your outstretched arms. It wasn’t much of a space but then Kaethe didn’t need much, she wasn’t used to having much and she always knew how to make the most out of what she had. Kaethe started off working with a friend selling rugs made of carpet remnants from local carpet mills that would be sewn together to make intricate and unique patchwork quilt-like patterns, a very Berkeley thing for the 60’s. She would also come across old garments from time to time that she would repair and sell using the skills she learned as a child, the store evolved over the years as trends would come and go. As the years went by and the business grew, evolving to include weaving, embroidery, macramé, lace making and many other textile arts so did her need for space,  one day a slightly larger storefront became available next door and she expanded. Over the years the business continued to grow and expand this happen 5 times over the years, each time moving to a slightly larger space next door. Eventually the business grew to where it now takes up 3 storefronts and has 6,000 sq. feet of floor space and an additional 6,000 sq. feet of space on the second floor.  As the mail order side of the business grew it also kept expanding to where it now occupies a 10,000 sq. foot building in Berkeley for offices, shipping and receiving and has a second 3,400 sq. foot building for bulk storage.



Jules and Kaethe always had a unique bond with their creativity, they always worked outside the box, they never thought that it couldn’t or shouldn’t be done they wanted to try everything with their own unique twist. For a period of time Kaethe was working with bobbin lace but instead of working with fine thread she worked with heavy rope and made amazing hangings that were upwards of 10’ tall. When the two of them put their heads together they were unstoppable, in 1974 they got to idea to cover the bottom 4 floors of the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco with Sprang netting. Back in 74’ you could actually get away with things like that… So with the help of a few dozen friends and 35 miles of donated rope it was done. After the event at the Transamerica Pyramid the net was used to cover part of the Cal Poly campus in San Luis Obispo.


      

Kaethe’s husband Jules, now a successful architect was always at her side supporting her and helping with the business in any way he could. As time went on he became more and more envious of the fun and freedom she had with her business, he eventually gave up architecture to work with her full time. As the focus of the business moved towards laces and the textile arts the name was changed from “Some Place” to “Lacis.” Jules, a constant inventor and innovator was always tinkering in the garage developing new products and tools with Kaethe at his side always being his biggest cheerleader. When they realized how much demand there was for their unique products across the country they began selling mail order to retail customers and eventually wholesale customers, and now Lacis is a major manufacturer and distributor of books, tools and equipment in the needlework industry. Kathe was a presence in her retail store on a daily basis while Jules kept the mail order side of the business going strong. In the early 1980’s their son Perrin Kliot joined them in the business and has been instrumental in keeping the mail order side of the business growing and up to date with technology, he still works side by side with Jules.


 

Kaethe always had a passion for learning and teaching, her mother always told her “in the end you can’t take it with you, so share and teach it all, don’t hold back.” Because of this passion Lacis became an education center as much as it was a retail store. There was nothing Kaethe loved more than when someone would come in and ask her a question. If she knew the answer, and she usually did she would share all she knew. If she didn’t know the answer she would never say “I don’t know” she would say “I’ll find out,” she always saw an unknown question as an opportunity to learn. She was never too busy to drop what she was doing and give her undivided attention to anyone and make that person feel special, this was easy for her to do because everyone who came into her store was special to her.

Sadly on the evening of August 16th 2002 we lost Kaethe very suddenly from an aneurysm, she was 72. Jules and Kaethe loved lace and had been collecting laces whenever they could for more than 40 years and had amassed one of the finest private collections in the country. Kaethe used to say that someday she would retire and spend her days going through her lace collection, sadly that day never came for her. A short time after her passing Jules was in her store and someone came in and was talking to him about her amazing store and he said “it was like a museum…” That was the spark that ignited Jules and the “Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles” was born as a tribute to Kaethe and all that she stood for and to showcase their extensive textile collection.  Kaethe's store is now a separate non-profit museum supported by it's own retail sales and support from Lacis, the original proprietorship serving the Needlework industry. The museum has permanent exhibits and revolving exhibits with the second floor now used for major exhibits and classes, all continuing the tradition of  Kaethe’s love of sharing and teaching.


After Kaethe's passing we put up a memorial guest book and will always be so greatful for all who wrote and shared their experiences with Kaethe, excerpts from the guest book can be found here.


       

Perrin Kliot

Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles lacismusuem.org