History of Lace
Irish needlepoint lace began at the Presentation Convent in Youghal, County
Cork, where Mother Mary Ann Smith had unpicked some Italian lace in order to
learn the technique of making it. She began to teach the local women and a lace
school was established. Initially, the lace looked very much like the Italian
Laces but, with the help of an excellent designer, the Irish Lace soon developed
its own characteristics. The lace was a flat type, without a raised, outlining
edge and solid areas of the design were opened up with holes to form diamond
shapes which were a feature often found in Venetian laces. The open fillings
were in single or double Brussels ground, sometimes decorated with tiny rings,
sometimes shamrocks and flowers which were either stylised of naturalistic and
the leaves were always serrated, like rose leaves.
Irish point quickly became
very popular and was patronised by British Royalty during the Nineteenth Century
lace revival. The lace is still made at the Presentation Convent, although in
limited quantities, but the quality and standard of work remains very high.
In one of my books there is a photograph of a magnificent court train in Youghal
lace worn by Queen Mary in 1911.
The embroidered net industry in Ireland was
set up by an Englishman, Charles Walker, who, having married the daughter of
a net manufacturer, moved to Limerick from Essex, taking twenty four lace embroiderers
with him. Mr. and Mrs. Walker taught the skills to the local Irish who took
enthusiastically to the needle running and tambour work and by the 1840's, when
the potato famine devastated Ireland, the industry was well established.
lace gradually spread to other parts of Ireland and the work force employed
in its production ran into thousands. Pieces were shown at the Great Exhibition
in London in 1851 and were awarded medals that further boosted demand for the
lace. The design was improved in the late Nineteenth Century and there was some
experimentation in copying designs from the old Brussel's bobbin and needle
laces. New designs for Limerick lace also evolved, often featuring the shamrock,
rose or harp but as needlerun lace was being produced in most European lace
centres and designs were copied everywhere, it is often difficult to identify
an old piece of lace as being made in Ireland. The beauty of Limerick lace is
its delicacy and the contrast between the outlines of the design and the filling
stitches used within small areas, called 'caskets'. A great many different stitches
can be used in this lace but it is sometimes better to restrict a design to
just a few.
Workers in the Irish Lace industry always made a sampler so that
decisions could be made about the best stitch or stitches for a particular design.
The introduction of Carrickmacross lace into Ireland has been attributed to
Mrs. Grey Porter who saw work of this type in Italy whilst on her honeymoon.
She taught it to her maid, applying muslin to the newly invented machine made
net and a new style of lace was created. As with other Irish laces, it was not
fully developed until the potato famine.
The managers of the Bath and Shirley
Estates in Carrickmacross village turned an empty house into a lace school and
before long there were more schools providing tuition for local women. There
was a need for a high standard of work, and this required supervision so various
lace centres were set up to control both teachers and the workers. Towards the
end of the Century, the nuns were teaching the work from the St. Louis Convent,
who made sure that the quality of the lace was maintained. This lace does not
wash well and was not, therefore, as popular as Limerick lace but it was in
demand for accessories such as fans and parasols, and for collars. There are
a number of ladies in the Australian Lace Guild who make Carrickmacross lace
but in view of the amount of work involved and the cost of the fine fabric needed
for the appliqué, I think I would rather put my time and energy into something
that will stand up to a certain amount of wear and tear.
were very much in demand as brides because of the additional income they could
produce for their husbands.
This is the technique of making fine, knotted net
using a needle of shuttle developed from the ancient net making techniques of
fishermen. Patterns were darned on the basic silk or linen thread net and lacis,
as it is called, was used for dress decoration, for home furnishings and by
the church. It was frequently decorated with metal threads and coloured silks
and was sometimes used in conjunction with simple cutwork and reticella designs.
The importance of lacis is reflected in the number of sixteenth Century pattern
books that featured the lace, and the same patterns were reprinted again and
again for three hundred years.
The first knitting machine, invented
by the Reverend William Lee in 1598 (which will surprise a lot of people) and
intended by him for the production of machine made silk stockings, was not really
fully developed until 1758 when there was a commercial need for a net that resembled
the bobbin and needle lace grounds.
With constant research, a successful machine
was invented and by 1810 there were 18,000 frames in the Nottingham District
making a net with an hexagonal mesh. A whole new industry had begun, with 1500
women and children spotting or needle running nets in Nottingham alone. (My
father was born in Nottingham so perhaps my love of lace has been passed down
to me from his side of the family).
A group of frame lacemakers migrated to
Calais from Nottingham but when the industry started to decline they were forced
to return to England because of the hostility shown to them by the Calais people.
Nottingham had a very large number of lacemakers out of work, and eventually
the Calais Lacemaker had no choice but to migrate to Australia. There is a Calais
Lacemakers Society in Sydney.
The net was a very stretchy fabric, made of silk
threads, but the invention of the warp frame meant that cotton could also be
used. This machine combined conventional weaving with the knitting machine technique
and instead of a single thread, the machine now had warp threads as on a weaving
loom. This was an important break through as John Heathcoat's bobbin net machine
could produce net in wider widths than before and was nearer in appearance and
feel to the handmade nets. The piece industries began to use it to attach motifs
and the terms 'Honiton Applied' and 'Brussels Applied' were used to describe
the laces. The scale of the production allowed applied and needlerun laces to
be produced comparatively cheaply and embroidered lace was produced in all the
lacemaking centres of Europe.
The net making machine was followed by machines
that could make good reproductions of almost any type of lace, particularly
the bobbin varieties such as chantilly and for the hand made lace industries,
the end was in sight. Laces are still made by the old traditional methods throughout
the world, but these days with a few exceptions, it is made as a hobby with
one person making lace from go to whoa compared with as many as six or seven
workers concentrating on different stages of the work.
There are many laces that I have not as yet even touched upon: Russian, Bohemian, tape lace, braid lace, Croatian, Hungarian, etc., so I will have to continue with my research into the History of Lace.