Skip to content

White-on-White Mountmellick Embroidery- Guest Blogger Christina Fairley Erickson

March 17, 2022

When planning my textile tour of Ireland in 2018, I included visiting Mountmellick to see the museum of Mountmellick embroidery. This embroidery style was developed between 1825-1840 by Johanna Carter, partly as a way to assist families to have some sort of income stream in the face of the recurrent famines, as well as financial problems due to the rise of industrialization.

Mountmellick Embroidery Sideboard Cloth with morning glory, dog roses, shamrocks, clover, passion flower, fuchsia, lilies, pansies, marsh marigold, peoniew, roses, forget-me-not, pimpernel, acorns, and oak leaves.

Mrs. Carter created a new bold style, inspired by the flora along the hedges and walls of Mountmellick and the banks of the Owenass river, which was unique elements include:

  • White cotton ground fabric (typically a white satin jean) contrasting with a more matte white cotton thread
  • Floral designs from nature in a fairly large scale
  • No use of openwork (although occasional eyelets appear on a fine ground)
  • Contrasts of smooth satin stitch against padded and knotted stitches.
  • Frequently finished with either buttonhole or knitted edgings with fringes.
Detail of stylized wheat sheaf on coverlet which includes triple feather, diamond filling, cable plait, seed stitches, Indian filling, and bullion knots.

The town of Mountmellick was founded in the 17th C. by Quakers (the Society of Friends), which has led to some speculation that this embroidery style was appealing due to it being bold and elegant, but without color, which would have been considered too worldly. The embroidery was taught to girls in school, allowing them to help bring in additional income to their families. The cottage industry faltered for about a decade around 1870, but rose again in 1880 when The Industrial Association in Mountmellick was started by Mrs. Millner ”to help provide a livelihood for ’distressed Irish gentlewomen’”.*

Child’s dress and cape c. 1890’s. Stitches include padded satin, feather, stem, Indian filling, and French knots. Bunches of grapes decorate the skirt, cape, collar and cuffs. Though the lace trimming blends nicely with the garment, it is not typical for Mountmellick.

In the 20th C., a notable gift of Mountmellick embroidery was received by President Kennedy during his 1963 visit to Ireland. The 10 by 9 foot tablecloth for the White House was decorated with floral and shamrock designs.

Pillow Sham patterned with vines, grapes, and oak leaves. The scalloped edge is finished with indented blanket stitch with fringing added on. Stem, Indian filling, Feather, and cable plait stitches and French knots are used.
Detail of Forget-me-nots from Sideboard cloth (top picture). Stitches on this piece: Bullion and French knots, Indian filling, blanket, feather, snail trail, stem, seed, satin, and cable plait.

I’ve found two good references for Mountmellick embroidery, if you’d like to learn more or try it out. “Mountmellick Work: Irish White Embroidery” by Jane Houston-Almqvist has the history, pictures of original pieces, an extensive collection of pattern work sheets, and diagrams of 70 stitches used in this style. “Beginner’s Guide to Mountmellick Embroidery” by Pat Trott has very clear directions on 13 stitches and how to do the knitted/fringed trim, and a few patterns.

I hope you’ll enjoy the understated elegance of this embroidery style and hopefully add the Mountmellick museum to your future travel plans, if heading to Ireland! Happy St Patricks Day!
*Houston-Almqvist, p 13.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 17, 2022 8:20 am


  2. March 17, 2022 8:55 am

    Thanks for the review of the Mountmellick Museum and wonderful images and descriptions of this White-on-White Embroidery Technique.

  3. Bobbie Herrick permalink
    March 17, 2022 9:05 am

    Inspiring to see. Thanks for sharing the detailed pictures and descriptions! It is beautiful.

  4. Penny Peters permalink
    March 17, 2022 11:49 am

    Beautiful! White on white is lovely. Thank you for your post!

  5. Ann Darling permalink
    March 17, 2022 12:07 pm

    Interesting to read of the development of the work and to see such great examples. Thanks for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: