Irish Crochet: A Great How-to Guide, History, and Folklore Behind This Traditional 18th Century Craft

Updated On: September 13, 2023

Irish Crochet

What is crochet?

Before talking about Irish crochet specifically it is important to know what crochet is. Crochet is a craft involving the creation of objects, clothing, and blankets with yarn and a crochet hook. Unlike knitting, crochet uses only one hook rather than two needles which means it can be easier to learn. It is a highly versatile craft which can create many different things using a small range of stitches. Crochet stitches are created when a loop of yarn is brought through another loop using the crochet hook. Depending on how you do this, it can create a different look to each stitch.

There are many ways to learn crochet including YouTube tutorials and online guides, or you can look up a local crafter who may offer classes.

What is Irish Crochet?

Irish crochet is a traditional heritage craft from Ireland which has been popular sicne the 18th century. Irish crochet differs from the style of traditional crochet by specializing in the creation of lace. Irish crochet pieces are make up of multiple motifs which work are joined with background lace work to create a piece of lace. Instead of being created in rounds or rows which are all joined together, Irish crochet creates parts of the design individually then joins them to create an overall design.

Irish crochet can be used to make decorative items such as tablecloths but can also be used to create beautiful clothing such as wedding dresses. You can create a collar to add to a top or add decorate lace detailing to a dress. 

Irish Crochet
Irish crochet lace wedding dress

How to Irish Crochet

Irish crochet projects are done in several steps, listed below:

  • Find or create a pattern
  • Choose your materials according to your pattern or design, Irish crochet is done with lace weight thread, usually cotton although historically linen.
  • Choose your motifs and create them
  • Lay your motifs on a piece of muslin or other scrap fabric in the placement of your pattern or deign. Pin and stitch your motif pieces to the muslin cloth using tacking stitches.
  • Crochet lace patterns between you motifs to join them in a complete design, you may also add beading at this stage if you want.
  • Once complete, turn over the muslin and use a seam ripper to remove the tack stitches, doing this on the back of the muslin ensures you won’t catch your cotton lace work.
  • You piece is complete!
Irish Crochet
Example of a Irish Crochet Lace Pattern

Read on to learn more about where to find patterns, designing an Irish crochet piece, and the history and folklore connected to Irish crochet.

Where to Find Irish Crochet Patterns

Unlike the original Irish crocheters we have the benefit of the internet to help us find patterns instead of being limited to what we can find in a book. However, books on Irish crochet are helpful and may help you in developing your skills. Beyond the words written in books you can find information and patterns for Irish crochet in a variety of places online:

  • YouTube – great for tutorials which may help you discover new motifs and techniques.
  • Pinterest – gather inspiration and find tutorials and blogs from other crocheters
  • The Antique Pattern Library – This website provides archived patterns which are free to download and use.
Irish Crochet
Irish Crochet: A Great How-to Guide, History, and Folklore Behind This Traditional 18th Century Craft 5

How to Design An Irish Crochet Piece

When starting out you may want to follow patterns but eventually you can design your own piece to create using irish crochet skills. Irish crochet is traditionally inspired by nature, using plants, flowers, and fauna to inspire the designs immortalized in lace. Once inspiration for a design strikes, maybe on a national trust site walk taking in coastal or forest landscapes, you are ready to design your very own irish crochet piece.  

Drawing out your piece – To give you a guide while you work it is best to draw out your pattern on fabric or foam before you start. If you draw it on fabric you will stitch your elements on as you go, if working on foam you will pin them. Choose whichever method suits you best and don’t be afraid to try different techniques as you learn.

Create the individual elements – Irish crochet is made up of individual pieces and motifs, create each of your elements then attach them in place on your design which you drew out.

Fill in the background – Using a filler lace stitch connect all your elements together. This will make your piece into a single lace work, you can also add beads at this stage. There are different styles of joining lace which you can use to give a unique look to your piece. Once all your elements are connected it can be unpinned or unstitched from the backing where your design is drawn leaving you with a piece of irish crochet lace.

The History of Irish Crochet

Textiles have always been an important part of crafting history in Ireland, with the linen industry being one of the five main exports in the country. Linen is also the traditional material used in irish crochet lace.

Crochet itself is a French craft, the word ‘crochet’ translating to little hook in French. Ursuline nuns from France brought the practice to Ireland. Crocheting lace was cheaper and more efficient than other methods and Irish women and children we encouraged to make lace. It was a way of making money for their families. The practice was very important during the irish potato famine as it aided in stimulating the economy.

Irish Crochet
Irish Crochet

Folklore Around Irish Crochet

Many traditional Irish crafts have links to folklore and myths around them. When making potato farls they are rolled out into a circle and then cut with a cross, to let fairies escape. Irish crochet also has folklore connected to it, which may be encouraging to people learning how.

It is said that a piece of your soul is trapped in each piece of Irish crochet lace you make, so the best thing to do is to leave a mistake in each piece of your work to ensure your soul can escape.

So if you make a mistake, you know it is a good thing.

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