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Needlework formed an important part of women’s lives in times past.

It was particularly significant in Ireland at the time of the Great Famine (1846-1852) when Irish women learnt to make lower-cost crochet versions of the expensive needle and bobbin laces which were in demand at the time.

Irish women were talented with their fingers and produced some beautiful work. This new source of income enabled many thousands of people to survive and improve their lot well into the twentieth century.

I visited Ireland, spending time in museums, libraries, convents and archives as well as with lace historians and lacemakers.  I looked at Irish crochet wherever I could in Australia, the USA, Ireland, London and Paris. I added to my collection of the lace, which was often amazingly intricate and varied. The stories of the people involved were delightful.

In Australia many women used their needlework skills to make clothing and household items at a fraction of the cost of bought articles.  Mending was vital too. In addition, needlework was a fashionable and socially-correct pastime providing articles which adorned their homes, adding a gracious touch and enhancing their status as a home maker.

Embroidery, crochet and knitting were very popular and called for a constant supply of patterns, which until early in the twentieth century mostly came from overseas. Then, shortly before World War I, locally designed ones became available in Australian magazines and booklets.

My research began with Mary Card who became internationally renowned for her superb crochet lace designs. I found the old magazines and newspapers a rich source of history as it actually happened. I uncovered a long forgotten way of life such as my mother had described, as well as appealing designs. I added to my mother’s collection of
crochet lace.

Mcard scones


Mcard jewellery

Modern technology and cheap imported textiles have changed our lives and few women do needlework today. Fortunately some of us still chose to learn these skills and create beautiful things.

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Copyright © 2008 Barbara Ballantyne, Research on Irish Crochet Lace and Australian Needlework, All Rights Reserved
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