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Carrickmacross Lace – Guest Blogger Christina Fairley Erickson

November 8, 2019

Prior to traveling to Ireland, I researched where I might find interesting Irish stitchwork. I discovered that Ireland has many different styles of lace, including Carrickmacross lace, Irish Crochet lace, Kenmare lace, Limerick lace, and Youghal lace.  

Lace making techniques include needle lace (hand made with a needle & thread), machine- made lace, bobbin lace made by manipulating bobbins of thread on a pillow.  Irish Carrickmacross is handmade using an ornate appliqué technique. Most famously in recent years, Carrickmacross  lace was used in Kate Middleton’s wedding  to Prince William.


I found the Lace Gallery of Carrickmacross, a cooperative of 15 lace workers founded in 1984 in the small town, about 60 miles northwest of Dublin, still keeping the tradition alive. The gallery exhibits vintage wedding veils and christening gowns and sells smaller items, as well as taking commissions.

Detail of stitching

 

The history of this lace making technique goes back to the 1820’s Margaret Grey Porter, the wife of a local rector, hoped to help young women make an income.  Mrs Porter had collected samples of Italian lace during their honeymoon. She copied the samples and used them to teach the local women with the assistance of her maid. The Italian influence quickly evolved into a distinct style of Carrickmacross lace. Characteristic motifs include flowers, leaves, hearts, bows and Celtic designs, as well as pops — small raised circles dotted around the larger pattern.

The lace, crafted in farmhouses, became popular with Queen Victoria and fashionable aristocrats of the day. During the famine years in the mid-1840’s, a lace school was set up by the managers of the Bath and Shirley estates at Carrickmacross as a means of helping their starving tenants, and the lace became known and found sales.  During the Great Famine of 1845-1849, local lacemakers were credited with keeping many families alive.

After the worst of the famine years, through the last half of the 19th century, the lacemaking declined. Then in the 1890’s, the Sisters of St Louis founded their own lace school to revive the craft, and this was quite profitable for several years. Although the outbreak of the 1914–18 war marked the virtual end of commercial production of hand-made lace in Europe, the lace school kept the technique alive throughout the 20th century. In 1984 the St Louis Sisters assisted in the formation of The Carrickmacross Lace Co-operative, which maintains the tradition to this day.

Although the convent closed in 1988, the area’s tradition lives on with the cooperative where lace makers use the exact same techniques as 200 years ago.

Christina with one of the Carrickmacross Co-op’s talented lace makers, looking at an antique wedding veil

The process of making Carrickmacross lace starts with laying a paper pattern onto a layer of organdy and  a base layer of cotton net (similar to tulle, but much softer and pliable).  A lightweight soft white muslin (sheer enough to see a pattern underneath) is appliquéd onto the net.   Designs are outlined with an appliqué technique, holding a cotton thread in place on the patterns and sewing tiny, close stitches across it, through the entire paper-fabric sandwich. Additional embroidery stitches create edgings, patterns and cutwork. Carrickmacross makers fill in the outlines using 15 different stitches .

The final step is to carefully cut away the paper pattern and any unwanted organdy, revealing the design on the net.

One of my favorite pieces shares the Irish motto “Cead Mile Failte” or a ‘Hundred Thousand Welcomes’.  Everywhere we traveled on the Emerald Isle, we were greeted warmly, and treated with such kindness and hospitality, including Carrickmacross, extending to us such warmth that the saying seems endeared upon the hearts of the Irish people.

If you’re interested in trying your hand at this lovely lace, the Lace Gallery in Carrickmacross has kits available online at: https://www.carrickmacrosslace.ie/8-lace-making-kit

Other Blog Posts on Lace

Carrickmacross Lace and a Royal Wedding

Flowers & Lace in Fashion – Guest Blogger Isabel Parker

Threads Come Alive in Lacemaking

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Penny Peters permalink
    November 8, 2019 9:03 pm

    Interesting! Thanks for sharing this lovely lace!

  2. Salinda Sheffels permalink
    November 10, 2019 4:00 pm

    A craft worth learning. Thank you for sharing

  3. November 11, 2019 2:01 pm

    Thank you for sharing what you learned and the photos of this wonderful lace. Looks like loads of work 🙂

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