Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Family lace

There is a wonderful rich tradition of lace making in Ireland, with a variety of styles and techniques. Most people will have heard of Carrickmacross lace but there are many many more. It has always been a cottage industry here in Ireland and it still seems to have a healthy following both here and abroad.

When I thought of doing a blog post on the pieces of lace that I had from Mum, I mentioned it to my Aunt Kay, Mum's sister. She in turn went looking for her pieces and mentioned it to other family members. Photos and stories started making their way back to me. So this post is a little larger than I thought it would be!

These are a selection of crochet lace collars and cuffs that belonged to my mum and her sister Kay.
They were all made by their granny, my Great Granny Croarkin.

I love these designs, they are very intricate and fine.
The motifs in the centre of these cuffs were a design created by great Granny Croarkin and one which she used a lot in her work. She called them "ferns" and it was her signature.

Clones and Roslea lace has a very specific style, a much richer and textured type of lace made by crochet compared to the very fine and delicate style of Carrickmacross lace. There were a number of collar and cuff sets made by my great grandmother for my Mum and her sister Kay and they were removed and reattached to various dancing costumes over a number of years. Given the time it took to make each piece and the detail and care she took in making them, they were given their due respect and handled with love, I'm chuffed to have them in such beautiful condition today.
My Auntie Kay and Mum in their Irish dancing gunas with lace collars and cuffs!

Great Granny Croarkin was from Roslea in County Fermanagh, just a hop skip and a jump from Clones in County Monaghan (8.6km to be specific!).

It is a gorgeous warm gold colour and is worn high like a choker as opposed to the flatter collar shapes of the others.

The fern motif is used here also.

Above - Carrickmacross Lace collar made by my grandmother Peg.

The following is a recollection from my Mum's cousin Jim.-
Great Granny Croarkin in 1951
"Granny was ahead of her time. When she married Granda she sent him to London to learn tailoring and came back as the expert in the area, making suits and coats for men and suits for ladies. People came from far and wide to have their clothes made by him.
While Granda sewed in his workshop, a small shed across the street with a corregated iron roof, Granny cooked and baked and boiled  and tended the hens and pigs and in the evening she sat by the fire and crocheted by oil lamp.
This was Roslea / Clones lace - made from fine cotton thread using a really fine steel hook.
Such hooks were made locally by some blacksmiths and had a handle of cane. Many ladies used to do crochet to order for a local lady.
On market day, Wednesday, Mrs Stevely from Scotstown, came to our parlour in Roslea, to buy the crochet made by all the local ladies. I think she supplied the fine cotton thread.
Payment was minimal and when the ladies came to sell eggs or butter in Roslea on Wednesdays or their crochet they then did their weekly shopping for tea, sugar and other neccesities.
Granny's crochet was so fine and the little chains that joined the motifs, roses, shamrocks and other designs that those ladies invented themselves, had little knots in each space.
This was distinctive to Clones / Roslea lace.
In famine times, a rich lady called Cassandra Hand went to Italy and saw elderly ladies making crochet there to subsidise their family income.
She learned how to do it and brought back this skill so the ladies of Clones and Roslea, who were suffering from serious famine, could have a way to earn some money to buy food for their family.
This is where the crochet tradition began and there by candlelight or their tiny fires they worked their magic mostly at night when the work was done.
I remember Granny telling me she heard the click of the needle which told her she was doing it correctly. 
In 1955/56 Aunty Kitty (Aunty Kitty is my Grandmothers sister) entered some of grannys crochet work, I think it was a dressing table set, 2 small mats and a larger centre one, in the crafts section of Clones show, which was one of the big animal events for farm people.
And she won first prize. Granny made these dressing table sets, cuffs, collars for blouses and dresses like many many other grannys.
She crocheted the lace for surplices for mass servers and priests and usually these had grasses and roses as the motifs.
I was then proud owner of one such surplice. Even as an old lady with failing eyesight she still did her crochet and if she visited Maggie Boyle or Mrs Mc Dermot they all worked away crocheting together as they chatted and their menfolk played cards or told stories.
I was always sorry I didn't take the time to learn the art from granny but in the 1980s I found a book by... D'Arcy of Roslea and taught myself using wool at first.
There is also a book by Clones lady, Moira Treanor, on the same subject. Canal stores on Cavan Road, Clones, still sell items of Clones lace (expensive) They have a display of their pieces including a wedding dress.
Owner Victoria wore a Clones lace wedding dress.

Having taught himself to crochet, Jim made christening robes for my Mum for her first baby, my brother Tony and we were all subsequently christened in these robes. He also crocheted my own first communion dress.

Exhibit A
That's me on the left, my cousin Shelly on the right.
(I have no recollection of this momentous occasion!)
We have all the family lace and crochet kept together in a special box, it is stored in acid free tissue paper to protect it and we have my first communion gown, the christening robes and all the little collar and cuffs sets along with some really pretty dressing table sets too.

Unfortunately some some sets didn't fare so well. This beautiful piece has had some serious moth damage. I will restore it to it's former glory though!

 If you have your own pieces of lace you might be interested in this -

My husbands' family also had their own lace stories.
My husbands paternal Grandmother commissioned the nuns in Crossmaglen in 1934 to make her wedding veil.
This veil has been worn by many female family members on their special day, including my husband's mother.

One particular aunt borrowed the veil for her wedding day and as her future brother-in-law stepped in for an enthusiastic pre ceremony hug, he unfortunately stepped on the veil and made a large hole in the antique family heirloom!
The poor aunt spent a lot of her wedding day worrying about how she was going to tell her future mother-in-law what had happened to her beautiful veil.
Thankfully she was able to get the veil professionally repaired.

Unfortunately the whereabouts of the veil are now unknown : (

In contrast to the cottage industry in Ireland, where lace was generally made by women in their homes the following video shows lace being made on an industrial scale in a factory in Nottingham in the 1930s.

If you are interested in Clones crochet lace making, The Constant Knitter on Francis St, Dublin,  holds workshops, details here - http://www.theconstantknitter.ie/

With thanks to my aunt Kay, cousins and great Aunt Kitty.
xxx Caroline xxx

1 comment:

Judith Kimber said...

Love this post! I too have a box of lace collars and cuffs made by my ancestors, some of whom came from Clones. So interesting to hear more about the tradition.