Repair Project: Beautiful 100 Year Old Antique Irish Lace

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This lace belongs to a friend of mine who has had it for many years.  It’s hand made Irish crochet lace.  A few of the floral motifs have been torn out here and there, and the picot netting is torn in several more places. 

She asked me if I would be able to repair it, and help her preserve it.  I have to admit that repairing a hundred+ year old piece of handmade Irish lace is a nerdy kind of wonderful. I readily agreed.  So much history here.

In examining the lace, it was easy to see how the damage had happened.  These little hook closures across the front of the jacket have caught on the lace and inadvertently been pulled, ripping through the aging thread.

The culprit: sharp little hook and eye closures

The culprit: sharp little hook and eye closures

My first job was to whiten the lace. I had no thread that would match the deep antique yellow it had become over the years, so I consulted with my mother-in-law who has a lot of experience laundering old lace.  She suggested Clorox II.  It has no chlorine bleach in it, so it won’t damage the fibers, but it does an amazing job of whitening.  It has a bit of bluing in it also, which helps the thread appear whiter.

The washing process took an entire evening, soaking, agitating, and rinsing.  The gentle process did a great job of taking a lot of the aged color from the thread.  Once the lace was a lighter color, not quite pristine white, but tolerably close– my thread was a sufficient match and the repair could begin.

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Irish floral crochet motifs embedded in picot ground.

I’m not done with this project yet, but making good progress.  I just love studying all the old motifs.  I can copy most of them from experience and observation.  The stitch tension is tighter than my tension, so I’m using my very smallest hook, Tulip, size 23.

A good variety of flowers

A good variety of flowers

Such a pretty piece.

Such a pretty piece.

I’m looking forward to posting finished pictures.

Tatting vs. Crochet

Tatting shuttles on tatted lace.

Old Wooden Tatting Shuttles on Tatted Lace.

Tatting is very different from crochet in terms of how the laces are made. Both can be used to make temple altar cloths, so what is the difference?  Tatting and crochet lace can sometimes look similar, partly because crochet lace can so easily mimic other laces.  There are differences though.

The first difference is the tools used. In tatting, we use tatting shuttles, like these gorgeous wooden ones I saw once in a tatted lacemaker’s shuttle collection.  Crochet is actually named after the French word for “hook”, which is “crochet”. In crochet lace making, we use delicate steel hooks like these:

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Steel Lace Crochet Hooks

Between tatted and crochet laces, can you tell the difference? It’s tricky because crochet mimics so many different types of lace. There are bobbin laces, hardanger, reticella lace, needlepoint lace…. lots of old fashioned laces to mimic. Crochet mimics them all, and does it well because the mimicry can be done in a fraction of the time that the older style laces could be made. Less time to create meant more could be made, and time is money.  In those old days where lace was so closely tied to social status, lace was a big deal, and a large part of the European culture.  Irish crochet was the one instance I know of where crochet was sought after for its own beauty rather than speed. Speed and versatility are some of the main reasons crochet is still around, and the other laces faded first. The secret to the speed, is in the hook.

The second difference between tatting and crochet is how the thread is wound, looped and knotted.  Tatting is made with the shuttle passing in, out and around a loop of thread wound around your hand to tie a simple set of knots.  Those knots are then arranged in marvelous ways, with picots and a few other variations, but in general, strings, loops and picots are what tatting is known for.  Crochet is a series of loops pulled through other loops in a variety of ways. Crochet can look like cloth, or like lace, and everything in between because there are more ways to connect the threads than just picot connections.

You can see the difference between tatted laces and crochet laces if you study pictures of the types of lace.  You’ll soon see that tatted lace has a fairly uniform look, and crochet varies widely.

Lace Thread and Crochet Lace Edging

Tatting and crochet laces use the same thread sizes, and that makes them similar.  They also have similar designs with various styles of loops and picots, some look the same, but some look very different from each other.

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Crochet Lace Edgings

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Tatted Lace Edgings

In tatting, there are rarely any straight lines, everything is made of rows of curved stitches and picots.  Picots are those little loops that make it so frilly.  In french, tatting is called frivolete, for that reason.  People LOVE tatting because it is so frilly and delicate.

Crochet can’t replicate tatting precisely, but as a lace maker and designer, I use tatting principles in the designs I make, because they are so appealing.  I know my eye loves those picots, so I add them wherever possible, and covered chains are more appealing than uncovered ones.

There are many kinds of picots in crochet, especially Irish crochet.  People LOVE Irish crochet partly because of the picots.  There’s something about a picot that is appealing.  I don’t know what it is, but I’m smitten with it too.  They remind me of baby’s breath.

My favorite picot is very different from a tatted picot, it’s called a clones knot.  In this piece, you can see both crochet picots, and clones knots.  The clones knot looks like a little ball, where a picot is more like a frilly bump.

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Irish Crochet Lace with Clones Knots and Picots

Both types of lace can be plain, or intricate, depending on the design. The art of lace making is in the design. The rest is skill, but an eye for beauty transforms a useful skill into an art.