The craft of lacemaking was introduced to Ireland in the early 18th century. It was intended to provide both an alternative to traditional European laces (which were expensive and hard to obtain) and a supplemental income for many of the poor.
Lacemaking schools were established that offered free training. The length of this training varied depending on the technique being taught, and could be up to several months. It turned out that the techniques tended to gravitate toward different areas of the country, so that it was possible to guess where different laces had been made based on how they’d been made.
Lace can be made in many different ways, but the Irish lacemakers tended to use the following techniques:
Bobbin (“bone”) lace was probably the earliest to develop. In this technique, a design is attached to a hard pad or pillow using many pins which follow the outline closely. Then, thread wound on bobbins (which are sometimes made of bone, giving its alternate name) is twisted around the pins to form the design. Several bobbins are usually in use at the same time; it takes quite a bit of concentration to keep track of the developing pattern.
Needlepoint (“rose point”) lace uses a design that is drawn on cotton fabric and then outlined with a thick thread sewn on with a thinner thread. Once the outline is completed, thin thread is used to fill in the rest of the pattern. After it’s finished, the fabric is cut away. This type of lace can produce a flat design or a raised one (if very thick threads are used). The process is very slow; large pieces take a long time, and may be broken down into sections completed simultaneously by different people and then assembled later.
Limerick lace is embroidery done over netting. There are two types:
– Tambour lace uses netting stretched over a drum-shaped frame. The lace is actually made using a crochet chain stitch.
– Run lace also uses netting, but in this case the thread is sewn on rather than chained.
Limerick lace designs depend on the pattern of the netting, which is frequently hexagonal; in many cases it’s easier to form angles than curves.
Carrickmacross lace is also a form of embroidery. There are two ways to make it:
– In the appliquÃ?Â© technique, the paper design, the netting, and a sheet of muslin are layered and temporarily fastened together. First, the design is outlined by sewing through both the netting and the muslin, and then the fill-in stitches are made. When the design is finished the extra muslin is cut away.
– In the guipure technique, the design is actually traced on cambric with thread. As with the appliquÃ?Â© technique, the extra fabric is cut away at the end.
Crochet lace is probably the most frequently seen type. It’s similar to standard crochet, except that the thread used is extremely fine and the hook very small. Some hooks are actually made from ordinary sewing needles with one half of the eye removed; the other half is curved up to make the hook.
Some crochet lace designs are very complex. The more difficult ones are made in pieces called motifs, which are then tacked to a fabric on which the design has been traced. When all the motifs have been tacked down, they are joined with a chain stitch.
Irish lacemakers may also use tatting, a way of making loops and knots with fine thread on a small shuttle held in the hand.
Irish lace is now world famous. The little craft that was originally intended to be only a supplemental source of income has proven to be a good showcase for the creative talents of many Irish women.