Recently, this photo made its way into my Facebook feed, and my comment was "The Holy Grail", because for me, I can't imagine finding anything better than an Edwardian garment in Irish crochet.
Edwardian bodice - 1905.
Today this arrived in the mail.
Let me tell you, these Priscilla books are hard to find. This book is dated 1909. Most of the Priscilla items for sale online are digital downloads of these books, and as a collector, a digital download is of no interest at all. Currently, I have four original Priscilla needlecraft books, two of which are about Irish crochet. The Modern Priscilla was a women's magazine published from the latter 19th century to the early 20th century. The Priscilla needlework books were a spin off from the magazines.
Irish crochet was particularly popular in the first two decades of the 20th century. There are some wonderful garments still around in reasonable condition dating from this period.
Gown circa 1905.
This tea gown was sold by Augusta Auctions for $US3105. I like to think it was bought by a museum, but who knows.
When silk gowns from this period are notoriously prone to shattering and wool gowns prone to be full of moth holes, the cotton Irish crochet gowns survive, and my book explains that "it is the most durable, serviceable and popular" (1) of Irish laces. "Irish crochet has this advantage also over every other kind of handmade lace, that it can be taken to pieces, altered into new shapes, as fashion dictates, and any motif that gets worn out can be replaced at will by a new one" (2)
Irish crochet is traditionally worked in a very fine thread, almost as fine as sewing thread, and with a tiny hook. Here are some tiny vintage crochet hooks in my collection, with celluloid container.
Note the little covers that slide over the pointy end of the hook. These are lethal weapons, almost like pins. Here's a close up:
Yes, apart from interminable patience, a lace maker also needed extremely good eyesight.
I hate to disappoint you all, but I am not going to be making any of the wonderful garments in this book. My crochet skills are mediocre at best, and my eyesight is woeful. I will, however, share them with you:
Here is a much simpler little bag from the same period in my store, but featuring the padded bobbles and tassels:
I would love to see this "waist garniture" being worn. It occurs to me now that this is probably not to be worn at the waist, but a "waist" was the Edwardian word for a blouse, so this most likely would have trimmed the neckline of a blouse.
There are three kinds of Irish crochet, says my book : "one is slightly padded, one is heavily padded, while a third has no padding. The heavily padded lace is considered the most valuable" (3) The heavily padded effect is seen in the little baubles pictured in the last photo.
Irish crochet is comprised of motifs worked separately and usually three dimensional. The crochet is worked over a cord to give a 3D effect to the flowers and leaves, and in addition many pieces are also padded as we have seen. Once the worker has completed the motifs, the whole design is stitched in place over a heavy piece of fabric and the worker completes the linking crochet. When the whole panel is completed it is removed from the backing and eventually crocheted together with other panels to form a garment.
Here is how it's done:
And here is someone actually doing the work:
So, is Irish crochet still worked today? Indeed, and here are some modern interpretations of garments:
Eastern Europe seems to be the place for modern interpretations of Irish crochet. Check out this wonderful work from Sveta Pushkina in Russia on Etsy:
Personally, the colored work doesn't do it for me, I'm a purist and I love the white, or maybe black. I'll keep searching for that antique piece that is out there somewhere, just waiting for me to find it.
(1) Priscilla Irish Crochet Book No 1: Boston; The Priscilla Publishing Company; 1909; p.3