Monday, May 9, 2011
Monday, May 9, 2011
Much has been written about the new Duchess of Cambridge's wedding gown by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen. One of the most dazzling aspects of the gown was the white-on-white bespoke lace, created especially by a team of expert embroiderers from the Royal School of Needlework.
Organdy fabric was appliqued onto a net background and then edged with cord-like thread to create motifs that were carefully designed to fit the dress's pieces. The work was painstaking, using minute stitches to ensure that the back of the lace was exactly the same as the front. Needles were reportedly renewed every 3 hours, and the needleworkers themselves were required to wash their hands every 30 minutes to keep the lace pristine.
This attention to detail is the mark of the finest Irish Carrickmacross lace. Carrickmacross takes its name from the town in County Monaghan where the lace was first created around 1820. Inspired by Italian lace, Mrs. Grey Porter, the wife of a local clergyman, introduced applique lacemaking to local woman through her needlework school. There were few opportunities for young women in the rural county to support themselves and their families, and Mrs. Porter hoped that lacemaking would provide an honorable (and lucrative) option. The young women proved apt pupils, and the once-Italian style lace took on a distinctly Irish flavor. As the reputation of the Carrickmacross lacemakers grew, so did their profits.
Soon other schools were established in the area, including seven on the grounds of the Carrickmacross estate of the Marquis of Bath in the 1840s. The region was particularly struck by the Potato Famines, and lacemaking was often the only means of a family's survival. Schools continued to teach the craft and preserve the patterns until the late 19th century, and both modern and antique examples of Carrickmacross lace are much desired by lace-loving collectors.
And, apparently, by lace-loving royal brides, too: not only did Carrickmacross lace embellish Kate Middleton's dress, but it framed the neckline of Diana Spencer's as well.
Here's a beautiful example of 19th c. Carrickmacross lace used in a lady's fan. To learn more about how the lace is made, here's YouTube video of a modern demonstration.