Ireland, in the early to mid-1800s faced extreme poverty; this was the time lace craft was born. During those tough times, Irish lace became the source of income for poor, young Irishwomen. This was the period between 1845 and 1851 after the potato famine swept Ireland.
Lace Making History
The introduction of lace making in Ireland was endorsed by the Ursula nuns and by Mademoiselle Riego de Blanchardiere. Mademoiselle Riego was the daughter of an Irish mother and a Franco-Spanish nobleman. Regardless of the credit of introducing this craft to Irish people, the fact is that the Irish lace was influenced heavily by Venetian needlepoint lace, a technique from Italy. This technique was exquisite and labor intensive.
Traditional Irish Crochet lace is done using three thread weights. A fine thread is used for the crocheted motifs, while a heavier thread is used as the foundation cord and a fine thread for the background-netting. The pattern pieces of Irish lace are crocheted individually. They use basic crochet stitches on the heavier foundation thread to form leaves, rings, and flowers. Once all the pieces are individually finished, they are sewn onto heavy cloth or paper, and the spaces are filled in between with different netting using the finest thread and a crochet hook. After the work is finished completely, it is removed from the cloth or paper.
Irish lace gained popularity in major cities namely, London, Paris, San Francisco, and Dublin. Ireland was the major distribution center for the lace until the 1906 earthquake. Lace making was a serious job that it became a true cottage industry with young women working on the designs in their homes. They would take their crochet pieces to another location where specially trained people would put their crocheted pieces together into trimmings, collars, and also even on the wedding gowns.
Irish Crochet lace workers kept their patterns secret from other lace makers. These workers did not allow visitors to come inside their house and hid the unfinished lace from sight, fearing theft of their crochet designs. In that time, it became a common practice for each person to be skilled in making or crocheting one thing such as a flower or a leaf, while another person would crochet different pieces using a background mesh.
The Irish lace popularity grew tremendously during the late 1800s to early 1900s. However, it began to fade with the change in fashions and almost died out. The lace makers were unable to compete with the 19th-century machine-made lace, and in the mid-20th century, the Irish crochet lacemaking disappeared. However, even today much of the lacework seen in the displays of lace museum and private collections are from the 1880s.
Irish Lace Today
These days finding authentic Irish lace is only possible in Ireland’s museums. Today, the lacework is practiced minimally in Ireland, yet the style embedded presents the work of fine artists. The new Irish crochet pattern is less intricate, colorful, and highly appealing. Nevertheless, the Irish crochet story is still unfolding with its sad origins and fragile victory times.