Re-Inventing Handmade Lace – Fiona Harrington
Ireland has a strong history of Handmade Lace. It was introduced here as a means of creating employment after the Great Famine. At the turn of the 20th century, it was the second largest industry in the country employing hundreds of women. It was bought by aristocracy and royalty, including Queen Elizabeth II. Wealthy people spent huge amounts of money on bedspreads and clothing made purely from Irish Lace. In 1886 in Kenmare, Co. Kerry, a large bed spread was sold for £300, at the time it cost £100 to build a good house!! For this reason, Handmade Lace is often known as the ‘Golden Fabric’.
Following World War I and the invention of machine made lace, the Handmade Lace industry almost completely died out. However, during the 1980’s a group of local women in Kenmare revived the techniques. They remain dedicated to preserving the tradition of lacemaking and these indigenous skills. Today there are only about 5 Lace Makers practicing in the region.
I learned Lacemaking at the Kenmare Lace Centre, Co.Kerry. Kenmare Lace is a needlepoint Lace made entirely from a needle and thread. The thread is as fine as a human hair!! I studied all the stitches, techniques, and patterns which have existed since 1861. I wanted to do something new with Lace, so I combined my love of Fine Art painting and contemporary design with the traditional practice. The result is a collection of work inspired by the Irish countryside. I am constantly exploring new ways to present Irish Lace while staying true to the intricacy and delicacy of the stitches. I often spend hours carefully intertwining the thread creating minute pattern detail. In doing this I hope to preserve an endangered tradition and bring a new lease of life to Lacemaking.