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Irish lace has always been an important part of the Irish needlework tradition. When times were hard, women had to find ways of supporting their family. This was particularly true during and after the great potato famine of the 1840s. During that time period, most women could do needlework, so it was only a short step to lace-making. Irish Crochet and Tatting traveled particularly well as equipment needed was simple, a ball of cotton and a shuttle for Tatting and simple crochet hook and cotton for Irish Crochet lace.
"Kenmare lace" is a needlepoint Irish lace based on the detached buttonhole stitch. (It is sometimes called needle-lace to distinguish it from canvas needlepoint.) Linen thread was used by nuns to make needlepoint lace. Suitable linen thread is no longer available so today cotton thread is used.
Kenmare needlepoint lace begins with two pieces of cloth. Over this is layered a pattern and a matt contact. Thread is laid over top in the outline of the design and secured with a fine detached buttonhole stitch in a process called "couching". The pattern is filled in by working in from the outline. The tension makes the pattern. How tightly the stitches are pulled determines whether the pattern's stitches are open or tight. When the work is finished, the thread holding down the outline is cut thus releasing the lace from the cloth backing.
"Irish crochet" is a type of lace that has its origin in the famine years of the 19th century in Ireland. Charity groups sought to revive the economy by teaching crochet lace technique at no charge to anyone willing to learn.This type of lace is characterized by separately crocheted motifs, which were later assembled into a mesh background. Other types of Irish crochet include Rosslea and Clones lace.
Irish Crochet Lace is made with a very fine steel crochet hook and fine crochet cotton or linen thread. It begins with an outline of the pattern on a piece of cloth. Each motif is then crocheted separately, using cotton cord for volume and shaping. The finished motifs are then basted (sewn with a loose stitch for temporary tacking) onto a cloth in the shape of the pattern. The motifs are then joined using chains and picots. When all the motifs have been joined together forming one piece of lace the basting stitch is removed from the back cloth revealing the completed lace.
Irish Crochet Lace, particularly Clones Lace, is experiencing a revival as modern designs are being created by Irish lacemakers as well as others, such as Eastern European, Australian, Asian and North American designers. Máire Treanor organizes the annual Clones Lace Summer School in Clones, County Monaghan, as a gathering place for designers and students wishing to learn and preserve traditional patterns and share innovative ideas.
Other types of Irish Lace
Other types of Irish lace include:
- Nellie o’Cléirig (2003) Hardship and high Living
- Barbra Ballantyne (2007) Early History of Irish Crochet Lace
- Kenmare Literary and Historical Society; (1982) Kenmare Journal
- Eithne D'Arcy (1985) Irish Crochet Lace
- Máire Treanor (2010) Clones Lace: The Story and Patterns of an Irish Crochet