The first of the large scale making of Irish Handmade Lace began with Limerick Lace. Items made included lace for dresses and bridal veils as well as smaller accessories such as lace gloves, lace collars and lace trimmed hankerchiefs. In 1829, Charles Walker, an Englishman married to the daughter of a lace manufacturer, came to Limerick to set up a lace making factory. The availability of inexpensive labour, who were already skilled in sewing, were part of the attraction for him. He brought 24 trained staff with him to help develop his business. Other factories soon opened and by the 1840’s the making of Limerick Lace had also been introduced into convents and similar institutions. By the 1850’s, nearly 2000 people were employed in the trade. In 1841 Charles Walker sold his factory but the trade continued. In this later period after 1850’s the quality of the lace declined, due to a lack of design training, patterns and poorer quality materials being used. It was also affected by the increased availability of cheap machine made lace.
However, in 1889, Florence Vere O’Brien opened a lace making school with the purpose of raising the standard of the designs and the quality of the product. The opening of the school was part of an overall movement seen in lace making at this time. Training in drawing and pattern making for lace designs was seen in all the lace schools throughout the country, being supported by the Crawford College of Art and Design in Cork and the Science and Art Department in South Kennsington, London. The school in Limerick finally closed in 1922. The changing fashions after World War 1 and cheaper imports from the Far East were part of the reason for this. Though it was still made in the area on a commercial basis until the 1960’s, it was on a smaller scale. Amazing Lace A History of the Limerick Lace Industry by Dr Matthew Potter is a wonderful read for anyone interested in more detail.
I hope you enjoyed this small insight into Limerick Lace.