Lace is one of those words that comes with a host of associations and all of them are good. Lace means delicate, it means intricate, and it means elegant. It usually means expensive. But if you are a dedicated player-with-yarn then lace isn’t expensive for you becasue you can make your own lace thank-you very much.
The origins of crochet are a bit mysterious and hotly contested. There are plenty of theories about where crochet came from and who was doing it first. I’ve read enough about that topic to have decided that we (we as in the human race) should keep better records the next time we come up with a totally new needle art. But its safe to say in the mid-1700’s lace makers all over Europe were making lace with needles and with bobbins and a hundred years latter they were making lace with hooks. The earliest crochet was, in fact, all about making lace. Crochet became so popular so fast becasue it was an easier and faster way to make lace.
Ever try Irish crochet? Yeah, its a bit different. Irish crochet isn’t the kind of thing you make from a standard pattern. Its far to individualized and unique for that. Its creation is more organic, more undefined. Irish crochet is a bit like painting. You let your mood and your medium (the yarn) take you.
At its inception Irish crochet was developed, refined and practiced for one reason: making money. Ireland had a long tradition of lace making via needle point and bobbins and tambour screens. When the Potato Famine struck, the Irish people lost their primary means to support themselves and feed their families. Thousands turned to crochet, a relatively new needle art, as a way to make income. They made lace that looked like needle point and/or tambour lace but they did it all in crochet. Then they sold it to the upper class.
Irish crochet literally saved a nation/culture from starvation. Its an amazing story and you can read about that in more detail right here. But let’s get you stated making a bit of Irish lace of your own. Here is the great thing about Irish lace: you can make it as easy or as complicated as you like.
Most Irish lace has two elements:
- individual, small pieces called motifs, and
- a mesh stitch that connects the motifs together.
Making the motifs
Here are a few free patterns for simple motifs to get you started.
And you can use any others that you like. Snowflakes work well. So do hearts, pineapples, starfish and, well, I could go on and on. Use what you like. That’s what the old-time masters of this lace did; they developed their own personalized motifs and guarded the knowledge of how they were made. So mix it up, make your motifs and if you come up with something really special, hide it from everyone at the back of your closet.
Or, ya know, share it all over the internet.
Making the mesh
Mesh is what you use to connect the motifs together. Its the “ground” or the in-fill. Some Irish lace makers space their motifs out with lots of mesh and some crowd them close together.
1) Start by laying out all the motifs you’ve made on a flat surface or even an old bed sheet. (Old sheets or a pillow are are nice to use because you can pin the motifs down and fix their positions.)
2) Join to a motif with a slip stitch and…
Okay so now you have some choices. The easiest stitch to use is probably a Diamond Mesh which is also known as netting.
Or you can enhance that with the Picot Diamond Mesh. Its very similar to Diamond Mesh (of course).
If you are ready for a challenge, try Clones Knots for a mesh.
Its a special stitch that seems to be unique to Irish crochet (I don’t see it anywhere else) what the old time Irish lace makers were using for their mesh.
The trick to making the mesh is not to over-think it. Mesh, any kind of mesh stitch, is designed to stretch out or squish together as you need it to. Its very forgiving. So start making in-fill and don’t let yourself forget that blocking will make it all better.
Here is a very nice video of Lacefromireland making the in-fill on a small pinned out piece of Irish crochet.
Even more free resources to get you making Irish Crochet
- Irish Crochet Lab
- 7 lessons in Irish Crochet from mypicot.com (the first of which is all about Irish crochet history)
- A collection of 10 free Irish crochet patterns curated by moogly
The image at the top of this post is a vintage Irish Crochet collar made sometime between 1888 to 1900 in white linen thread.