By A. Zarinah Nuri
The rhythmic pulling and pushing of needle and thread through layers of cloth can calm anxieties and evoke a tactile sensuality that delights. I find that sewing by hand quiets my mind and focuses my attention. Sewing thread onto layers of fabric is a fundamental process of making Carrickmacross lace. I encountered this handmade Irish lace by chance after deciding to take an online class instructed by Theresa Kelly at the Lace Museum based in Sunnyvale, California. Kelly, a brilliant Carrickmackross lacemaker, introduced the basic stitches and sparked my interest to learn more. She is based in Ireland, and we chatted via Zoom many months later as my desire to learn more grew.
Theresa Kelly describes Carrickmacross lace as both approachable and accessible in its sewing process and technique. With a few stitches, one can create beautiful, delicate pieces. Kelly has been working with Carrickmacross for over 40 years. Her studies began in a class with her teacher, Kathleen Flanagen, who had been making lace since she was seven. Theresa describes this technique as something she could tuck away when she was busy with two young children and resume when she could find bits of time—with the added bonus of being a process that does not require much space.
Handmade lace generally falls into categories of needle and bobbin lace. Needle laces have many styles, each of these can vary stylistically depending on the region from which the lace originates. Among the needle laces are Rose Point, Point de Gaze, Ruskin lace, Armenian lace, Filet lace, Reticella, Punto in Aria, Gros Point de Venise, as well as Alencon lace. Bobbin lace, on the other hand, uses a pattern drawn on parchment or card that is attached to a padded support or pillow. Lengths of thread wound on bobbins are twisted and braided according to the pattern. As the work progresses, the lace is held in place with pins set into the pillow.
Carrickamcross lace is a needle lace that uses simple tools: fine needles, thread, fine cotton or organdy fabric, a machine-made netting of cotton or nylon, and lace-making scissors (see image). Making this lace involves an applique of sheer woven fabric (fine cotton or organdy) onto a net ground. Underneath the layers of fabric (organdy and net) is the printed design on tracing paper which can be seen through the two layers of fabric. The printed design acts as a guide for the outline thread placement that is couched onto the two layers of fabric. Couching is the process by which a thicker thread is sewn down using a back stitch. Once the outline is completed, just the sheer fabric is cut away. Generally, this includes negative space between motifs and accent details. And finally, net ground can be embellished with embroidery stitches.
Carrickmacross lace emerged in the early 1820s in the villages near Carrickmacross, Ireland. In 1816, Mrs. Grey Porter, wife of the rector of Donaghmoyne in Monaghan County, went honeymooning in Italy. She brought some samples of Italian applique lace back to her home in Ireland. The Italian samples inspired Mrs. Grey Porter to figure out how they were made. She recreated them, then taught these techniques to others, and soon a whole new cottage industry was introduced. Mostly sold to the wealthy, Carrickmacross lace created a vehicle for young women in rural Ireland to make an income and continue to do so through famine and war. In the late 1800s, nuns known as the Sisters of St Louis established a school for lace-making that allowed the tradition to continue.
Today Carrickmacross lace is alive and well. In fact, the lace was used in the sleeves of the wedding dress of Diana, Princess of Wales. Later in 2011, when Kate Middleton and Prince William married, Kate’s veil was inspired by the techniques of this lace. Many lacemakers continue the technique solely using the 200-year-old traditional stitches like pops, guipure work, and loops, as well as motifs characteristic to the lace, such as leaves, hearts, flowers and Celtic designs. Theresa Kelly’s works pushes the medium of the lace forward by using both long-standing traditional techniques in tandem with contemporary approaches. I find the medium just as Kelly describes, “approachable and accessible,” intrinsically beautiful with many possibilities for creative discovery.
See more of Theresa Kelly’s work HERE
Learn more about The Lace Museum
Carrickmacross Lace, Irish embroidered net lace; Nellie O‘Cleirigh, Dolmen/Dryad, 1985
Needle–made Laces: Materials, Designs, Techniques; Pat Earnshaw, Collins Australia, 1988
A. Zarinah Nuri is an artist and textile designer whose work captures the music, magic and mystery of life. Her Master of Science in textile design thesis was based on fractals in African Cosmology, which she translated visually into a textile collection. As an aspiring writer of textiles her interests include the cultural history and material construction of textiles.
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