In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Intricate.”
In 1847, with Ireland in the grip of a famine that had been ravaging the country for two years, a nun at the Presentation convent in Youghal, county Cork, came up with an idea that would provide the children at the convent school with a means of earning a livelihood, or at least keep them from starving. Sister Mary Anne Smith found a piece of antique Point de Milan lace. She unraveled it, worked out its design and taught the intricate pattern to her best needlework students. Over the next five years a regular lace making school was formed.
Up to sixty women and young girls were earning a living as lace-makers in Youghal by the turn of the century. The women added fifty new stitches of their own, and the craft spread to other parts of the country making Irish lace a much desired fashion item, even worn by Queen Victoria herself.
These highly skilled women did not become wealthy from their intricate craft but their earnings made a significant difference in households of very low income. Their wages gave them a measure of economic independence and many of the younger women used their savings to emigrate to America.
Examples of Irish and European lace can be seen at the National Museum of Ireland
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