The Cultural Thread/
El Hilo Cultural

is an exhibit that highlights the varied embellished and luxurious textiles stitched right here in New Jersey and the people who created them. While it still comes as a surprise to many people outside of this area, people who live in the North Hudson region of New Jersey know that this area has been a major center of the creation of commercial embroidery and lace for 120 years. The emblems worn by boy scouts and the U.S. military, the fine embroidered lace on bridal wear and the dresses of divas, the lacey net on contemporary lingerie have all been designed and/or produced here. Above right: W.R. Thread showing the cutting of a field of stars for United States flags.

The Cultural Thread/ El Hilo Cultural tells the story of northern New Jersey's unique heritage as a world capital of embroidery and lace. Since the 1870s when Swiss and German immigrants set up the heavy machinery that creates the finest lace, North Hudson has produced intricate stitching worn by people around the globe. The knowledge regarding this art has been passed on from one generation to another in the many families involved in this cottage industry. A number of embroidery companies active in North Hudson today are still run by descendants of the Swiss, German and Austrian immigrants who established these businesses. Successive waves of immigrants from Eastern Europe, the Near East and Latin America have contributed imagination and skill to the industry in subsequent years. Shown left: Othmar Metzler, Swiss embroidery design.

In addition to the prolific embroidery created in the small shops of North Hudson, New Jersey has a number of expert embroiderers and lacemakers creating one of a kind garments and home furnishings. The Cultural Thread/ El Hilo Cultural exhibit also features work by skilled embroiderers from many cultural backgrounds including Asian Indian, Czech, Cuban, English, Episcopalian, Greek, Guinean, Hungarian, Italian, Jewish, Mexican, Nigerian, Palestinian, Turkish and Ukrainian. Shown right: Olena Halkowycz, Ukrainian embroidery.

Materials on display include old sample books, tools used to create embroidery, "cartoons" or enlargements of designs, embroidered fabrics, clothing, vestments, and quotes from embroiderers' stories.

"My grandmother bought her first house through the money she earned doing hand cutting. Women did 'home work.' They took the delicate stuff--the collars, the yokes--and hand cut all of them."

"How did I get started in this? I was born. There were no babysitters in those days, no preschools. I started working with my father and that was it. Whatever didn't get done in the daytime, daddy brought home. I made shuttle when I was 6 years old."

Credits: This exhibit was produced with the ongoing cooperation of the Schiffli Embroidery and Lace Manufacturers Association and with the assistance of The Newark Museum. Many individual embroiderers and embroidery companies have loaned or donated materials for the exhibit. This exhibit is made possible in part by funds from the National Endowment for the Arts; the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities; Bernard M. Hartnett, Jr., Hudson County Executive; Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders; Hudson County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and NJ Department of Commerce Office of Travel and Tourism.

Hours: The exihibit is open by appointment. Admission is free, except for guided tours. Call (201) 865-6980, ext. 15 for more information.

Amadou Diallo, Guinean embroidery


Perfla Valdes, Cuban embroidery and lace.


Maria Flores, Mexican embroidery


Alberto Morgan, Afro Cuban embroidery and lace.