What is The Irish Crochet Lace?
This type of lace is characterized by separately crocheted motifs, which were later assembled into a mesh background.
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.
The History of Irish Lace Crochet
It began in Ireland - relatively small island near Great Britain.
Lace was in the fashion, and there were many diffrent lace techniques in Europe during that period. They all were beautiful but far more labor intensive.
The first examples of crocheted lace tried to replicate the products of other lace making techniques as faithfully as possible.
Later, the many possibilities and beauty of crocheted lace itself were appreciated more.
The Irish tradition for making lace dates back to the sixteenth century. At that time it was known as "Nuns Work", because it was developed in convents.
But Irish Crochet Lace became very popular and profitable in Ireland during the potato famine of the 1800's.
There was no crop of potato for several years and poor people starved to death, they had to find other ways of supporting their family.
During that difficult time Irish lace became a source of income for many poor people.
Charity groups sought to help people by teaching crochet lace technique at no charge to anyone willing to learn.
During that time period, most women could do needlework, so it was only a short step to lace-making.
Irish Crochet Lace technique spreaded particularly well because the equipment needed was simple, a ball of cotton and simple crochet hook.
Cotton was cheap and easy to clean, and crochet hooks were not expensive either since they were handmade.
Irish Crochet was easier and took less time to make than other types of lace. Crocheting a piece became a family occupation.
During the potato famine, it was the only source of income and worth everything to the families.
Everyone in the family created the motifs that would go into the finished piece. It was a common practice in that time for each person to become skilled in making one motif only, such as a leaf or a flower.
Motifs were a family secret, and they were fiercely guarded. Irish Crochet lace workers were very careful in keeping their patterns secret and jealously guarded them from other lacemakers.
When visitors came, these workers would hold them at the front door until unfinished lace could be hidden from sight for fear of the theft of their designs.
Most of the patterns went to the grave along with the family.
After all the motifs were made (flowers, shamrocks, insects, and grapevines), the family members walked (sometimes miles) to a lace-making center in town,
where another person would crochet the different pieces together using a background mesh to form collars, cuffs, dresses, coats, etc...
The industry flourished for a time and fed the entire country.
The popularity of Irish Lace grew significantly during the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, but began to wane as fashions changed.
It is almost died out when lacemakers could not compete with machine-made lace in the late 19th century, and in the mid 20th century the Irish Crochet Lace making almost disappeared.
Vintage Irish Crochet Lace
The true Irish Lace is rare and deeply valued even today, and you can still find traditional Irish Crochet Lace in museums in Ireland.
Modern Irish Crochet Lace
Today Irish Crochet Lace is experiencing a revival as modern designs are being created by Irish lace makers as well as Eastern European, Australian, Asian, and North American.
Process of making Irish Crochet Lace is fascinating because it gives an artist almost absolute freedom and shows their artistic and creative abilities.
It's not like regular crochet that is mostly done in rows, although it requires exactly the same skills.
The technique gives you the freedom to create anything you desire, and your work can become a work of art.
Due to the amount of work involved, it’s often impractical to realize a profit from the making and selling handmade Irish Crochet, but if compared to any piece to modern machine-made lace, it is clear that it’s worth its price in gold.
The question is will this beautiful handcrafted vintage lace ever be as popular again?
Goldenberg, Samuel. Lace, Its Origin and History. Read Books. 2010.
Irish Crochet Lace. DMC library. Four PDF files: