Art with My Needle ~ Week 14

Today I fulfil a promise.

Many weeks ago I said I would return to the technique of Carrickmacross lace.

Carrickmacross lace originated in the early 1820’s and its style was inspired by some examples of appliqué lace collected by Mrs Grey Porter while on her honeymoon in Italy in 1816. She was the wife of the rector of Donaghmoyne, a village close to the town of Carrickmacross in County Monaghan.

Mrs Grey Porter saw in the craft a way to provide much needed employment for young women in rural Ireland. She and her maid learned the appliqué technique by copying the Italian work and in about 1820 they established an appliqué lace-making class which attracted a number of young women from the area. Other wealthy individuals in the area followed suit and during the famine these provided a very much needed source of income in the area.

Carrickmacross lace is an applique/cutwork type of lace worked over machine made netting. The lace is made attaching fine organdie to a delicate net ground, with the main part of design outlined in embroidery on both the organdie and net. When this process is complete the excess organdie is cut away revealing the design.  The craft of Carrickmacross lace remained strong, primarily thanks to the St Louis Convent in the town whose pupils continue to be taught the craft right to the present time. Lace makers in the area now produce lace mainly by commission and often for fashion designers.

During the time of the Great Famine in Ireland, when the potato crop failed and thousands died from starvation and fever. A Captain Morant, agent of the nearby Shirley Estate, gave the use of a vacant house in Carrickmacross town as a central school from which designs, instructions and orders for work were sent out so that the lace-making schools made a great contribution to the survival of many families.

To make your own piece of lace you will need:
Tissue paper for drawing the design, net, organdie, tacking tread (use a different colour), couching thread and sewing thread, 2 needles, 4 pins & small needlework scissors.

The design is drawn on the tissue paper and this provides the bottom layer of the sandwich, a layer of machine net is laid as a filling and topped with a layer of organdie.  This needs to be tacked carefully keeping the fabrics bubble free and flat.  Make sure not to cross the lines of the pattern.  The brown paper above is only to hold the sample and to show the layers more clearly.

Bring the couching thread (a thick thread) through to the back of the work secure it with two of the pins, these will be removed later and the end of the thread secured into the work.  This thick couching thread will be used to follow the line of the pattern.  Thread  a hand sewing needle with a fine sewing thread and secure it at the back of the work.  Bring it through to the front of the work and use to make small stitches securing the couching thread along the line of pattern, making sure the couching thread is lying flat and smooth.

Front side of the work

When the pattern is completely worked the edge is worked by making tiny even loops all the way around the piece of work.  Each loop is double stitched to hold it in place.  The centre diamond above is finishes with a selection of hand embroidery stitches.  Then the surplus organdie is cut away close to the couching thread being careful not to cut the stitches.

Back of the work

This is a piece of my work made a few years ago as a wedding gift. I had it framed and carried it all the way to The US.

I hear it is now very much at home in a kitchen in California.

11 thoughts on “Art with My Needle ~ Week 14

  1. Grannymar Post author


    My fingers stiffen and bend in the cold, but I try to keep warm when working with my needles. The main problem nowadays is that the eyes are not as good as they were. Threading a needle is FUN to watch these days… yet I hate using larger thicker needles.

  2. Grannymar Post author

    Maynard – my glasses see to it that the needles are well away from my eyes.

    WWW – I did try several of those large magnifying glasses, the clip on type and the ones on a cord worn around the neck. I didn’t like the effect they had on my eyes so I never invested in one.

    Baino – The working sample above was the size of a large coaster while the framed piece was the size of a large dinner plate [ guess where I got my circle 😉 ]. The H in the centre is for the family name.

  3. Alice

    Oh that’s beautiful, but you’ve gotta be kidding me. I could never do such intricate work with my big knuckles getting in the way of the needle all the time. Once upon a time maybe, but not now. I’m really glad there are people who can still do this beautiful craft. My birthday is in May.

  4. gaelikaa

    That is amazing. There is something for everyone in this post – for people who are interested in craft, history and general knowledge. I have never had much talent in the area of arts or crafts, although I do have a sister who is – I’m more of a reading/writing person. But after all, there has to be someone who appreciates the lovely creations, and that’s where I am. I found this post enchanting, particularly the historical detail. I find it wonderful how a person like Mrs. Grey Porter found the technique on honeymoon in Italy, and started a tradition – even something which helped people earn an income….

  5. Grannymar Post author

    Alice – The needles that I mostly use are the small very fine ones. You would pick them out easily in my needle case as they are all bent. But saying that, my days of very fine work like that above are over.

    Gaelikaa – I thought for once I would give a background to how the lace got the name.

  6. Karen Louise

    Hi there, I have stumbled across your blog while doing thesis research for carrickmacross lace and would love to know more about how your learned the craft. I would HUGELY appreciate if you could mail me and let me know as I am trying to get intouch with as many carrickmacross lace makers as possible!

    Thank You!
    Karen Louise, Textiles Student


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