Irish Crochet is a tradition in my family that goes back to my great-grandmother on my mother's side. Catherine Gibson Nethery Turner, my great-grandmother, emigrated from County Tyrone, Ireland, in the late 1880s. She was already a master lace maker. She may have learned the tradition from one of the teachers who taught the Irish to make lace during the Great Famine. She and her husband Christopher Turner settled in New York.
Catherine continued to make crochet items in small thread with tiny hooks that are barely visible to the eye, while raising four children in their brownstone apartment. I have surviving examples of her work, and also her hooks, which were passed to me by my grandmother. It was a great honor to receive the hooks and other Irish Crochet tools that came from this part of the family. Some of the hooks are barely visible to the eye.
Some of them were used for crochet, and some for tambour lace fabric, which is a form of cut-work embroidery that is made by using a hoop to contain fabric, so that a hook can be passed through the fabric to create loops around areas of fabric that have been cut out. Bridges of thread are also made that cross the open areas. It took great care to design and create a piece of this type of fabric.
Lace was an important indicator of status in the earlier centuries. Those who were able to create large amounts of it were able to support their families with better levels of prosperity than those who could not.
The time and energy used in this craft by our fore-mothers is indescribable. Along with all the many other tasks a female was expected to complete, the decoration of her home was a direct reflection of her skill in the needlework arts.
Tools of fine craftsmanship are highly prized and long-lasting, in this case staying in good condition, and very useable, well over a hundred years. Irish traditions of needlework focus heavily on the importance of good workmanship. Quality of design and its execution are viewed as a direct reflection of the character of the maker. Therefore items may, and do, last for generations.
Table cloths, linens of all types, clothing, curtains, anything that might be made more beautiful, or more durable, was subject to ornamentation. Edging made in fine thread in a dense texture could add years to the life of a piece of cloth, and was used extensively.
Caps, booties, and all forms of baby wear were, and are, favorite items to be made in Irish crochet.
Bookmarks for the family bible and the prayer book might be made in the very finest threads to express the devotion that was an every-present driving force in the life of needlewomen. In an imperfect world, sometimes surrounded by truly awful conditions, the women continued to create items of beauty that outlive their own lives, and even generations later, can inspire us to awe at the tenacity and skill that was being expressed.
Our fore-mothers truly knew how to make the most out of what came along. A little bit of thread can carry us a long, long, way.