Irish Lace - Beauty & Simplicity
lace is world famous for the intricate designs that develop
from very simple patterns. While lace making today is a big
business, with large factories rolling off yards of fabric
in minutes, the earliest Irish lace was a basic cottage industry.
the 1800s Ireland was a divided land. The wealthy lords owned
the land and tenant farmers produced crops for the owners.
Many families in Ireland lived in small cottages on land called
crofts. The family usually grew their own food on land not
used for producing crops for the Lord of the Manor. Most of
the crofters were "dirt poor" with little money
the lack of land and the rocky soil the most productive crop
to grow was potatoes. Some of the cottage farmers did grow
grains or vegetables, but even the seeds to produce these
crops were too expensive for most of the tenant farmers. When
the potato blight swept across the country between 1845 and
1851 and destroyed the crop it meant starvation for thousands
of the Ursuline nuns were familiar with Venetian lace, brought
over from France. Women had been producing rough cloth for
their families for generations. The nuns realized the opportunity
that these skills presented to help save the people from the
famine and began teaching many girls and women to produce
the fine crochet that has come to be known as "Irish
lace." The wealthier Irish families that could afford
to buy the lace earned the name of "lace curtain Irish."
Designs and motifs were developed by families. The patterns
were closely guarded secrets passed from mother to daughter.
The details were kept so secret that many of them were lost
as the families either died or fled the poverty for other
crochet schools established by the nuns in the 1850s and 1860s
disappeared as fashions changed and the demand for the cottage
lace declined. The introduction of factory production changed
the industry and mass production of lace is now the rule.
1880s saw a brief revival of the cottage lace industry and
produced most of the samples that are now family heirlooms
or museum pieces.
The Sheelin Irish Lace Museum is
a wonderful place to visit, in person or through the virtual
tour. The tour includes a brief history and stunning graphics
of Youghal Needlelace; Inishmacsaint Needlelace; Crochet;
Limerick Lace and Carrickmacross.
"The Museum traces the history of Lace-making in Ireland,
and conveys to the visitor the importance of the industry
to Ireland as a whole and to Irish women in particular."
Knitting & Crochet Guild has
gathered a brilliant collection of lace with some of the earliest
examples from the 18th century. Each section is accompanied
by some notes on the history attached to the period and the