How the Church Taught Lace-making to the Irish
by Tamara Isabell
Irish Lace is famous the world over, but most people have no idea that this industry originated with the Irish Famine and the Catholic Church’s response to the plight of the suffering poor.
The industry might never have flourished had it not been for the Famine in the mid 19th Century. One way in which the Church responded was to help training centers to be set up by Catholic clergy and convents as a means of assistance to the suffering poor.
The nuns in these convents were the repositories of knowledge of the ancient craft of lace-making techniques, methods imported from all over Europe.
They in turn taught these to Irish women and girls as a means of gainful employment for women whose men were all too often unemployed or underpaid farm workers.
An industry was born, and the unique layered, intricate look of Irish lace was eventually developed, distinguishing it from other European laces.
Irish laces evolved in distinct styles according to the region in which the lace was made, among them Irish Crochet, Carrickmacross, Clones, and Kenmare. The various laces adorned tables and clothing alike, but were also commonly used for wedding dresses, veils, and baptismal garments. Sadly, the industry was a short-lived one, as the advent of the Industrial Revolution made machine-made lace cheaper and more readily available.
Today, there are still some works of Irish Lace to be found in antiques shops, and a few artisans in Ireland and throughout the world continue to practice the technique. While there is a machine-made version available, traditional Irish Lace is always made by hand.
Larisa Chilton, founder of the Irish Crochet Lab, shared some images of the beautiful traditional work she is doing for a client.
These lovely pieces will eventually be joined to make a wedding dress, a design which will take an estimated eight months to complete!
Anyone with basic crochet skills can learn the craft, but the available resources are primarily in the form of 19th Century books, written in a form of English that can make the patterns difficult to interpret.
Luckily for those interested, Larisa has made it her mission to keep the craft alive by teaching it on her website. Visit irishcrochetlab.com to find out more about her video tutorials.