There are many ways to make lace, and crochet is just one of them. Irish crochet is a lace-making technique that is also freeform crochet. The most traditional examples of this beautiful and versatile craft are so delicate that you may not even realize that they are crocheted. You can also make a more modern interpretation of Irish crochet with thicker materials and bold colors.
What makes Irish crochet different from the crochet you're familiar with? Believe it or not, there aren't many differences. All the basic crochet stitches show up in this technique, but added to that is a more advanced method of crocheted over cording to add dimension, though this isn't always used.
Additionally, Irish crochet starts as separate motifs which you then join together to create the lace. It can look intimidating, but ultimately you only have to make small pieces that connect to make something impressive.
History of Irish Crochet
Irish crochet lace started as a way to easily produce lace that resembled the much-sought (and expensive) Venetian lace. Originating in France, it made its way to convents in Ireland as early as the late 18th century. When the Irish potato famine hit in the mid-19th century, this crochet technique was shared more broadly and quickly became a cottage industry for women that many credit with saving Ireland.
Individual households would make single motifs in bulk and sell them to a broker of sorts. From there, the pieces would come together with others to be joined with finely crocheted mesh or netting.
The lace, used for collars and cuffs, tablecloths, and wedding dresses, became popular after Queen Victoria was seen wearing it, and soon this gorgeous creation was desired in major cities far and wide. As machine-made lace became more widely available, World War I had its effects, and styles eventually changed, the demand for Irish crochet declined.
In more recent years, Irish crochet has found popularity again in Eastern European countries, where you'll find colorful and modern lace creations.
Tools and Supplies
Traditional Irish crochet would have been worked in linen thread. Today, it's common to use cotton crochet thread, perle cotton in varying weights, and even finer weight wool or cotton yarns. The finer the thread, the more delicate your lace will be.
You should use the same material throughout all the motifs, though you may want to use different colors. Some crocheters like to use a finer weight thread or yarn to join the motifs to make the mesh lacier.
Choose a hook size that works well for the weight of thread or yarn you are using. There's no hard and fast rule for this, and in fact, you can change the hook size to adjust the size of the motifs, as long as your work doesn't feel too tight or too loose.
Finding Patterns and Making Motifs
Irish crochet motifs use stitches that even beginners are familiar with, and most modern patterns come in the form of charts. Because of this, it's helpful to learn how to follow a chart and what the symbols are for basic stitches. You should also be aware that some charts from Eastern Europe have a few alternate symbols.
There are lots of books and online videos showing different motif patterns, but more traditional Irish crochet designs are also available through the Antique Pattern Library.
To try the motifs shown in this post, follow these free charts. The large flower and circle are worked in the round. The leaf, however, works back and forth in a technique that is common when forming asymmetrical or varied shapes.
These designs are easy to get started with, and as you get more familiar with Irish crochet you can also learn how to crochet around cording (often several strands of the working thread) to add dimension to your work. It's actually a lot like crocheting a magic loop.
The Basics of Making Irish Crochet
Follow the crochet charts above to create several Irish lace motifs.
Design Your Lace
After you've created enough motifs to fill the area of whatever you're making, arrange them in different ways to find the placement you like.
Pin the motifs to a piece of fabric-covered foam or a design board, placing the pieces face down. Make sure that they are spaced with enough room for the mesh or netting between them, but not so far apart that you mostly have a crocheted net.
Join the Motifs With Crocheted Netting
Working with as small a hook as works with your thread or yarn, slide the hook under two loops. Remember that this is the back of your work, so it won't show.
Draw up a loop and single crochet to attach the thread or yarn.
Chain to the next motif, making it long enough that it doesn't feel tight. It helps to place a pin at the start of the chain.
Slip the loop off the hook and then slide the hook under two stitch loops on the second motif.
Draw the loop through. This is enough to join it to this motif.
Alternately, you can single crochet instead of slipping the loop off and drawing it through.
Stitch the Netting
Connect all the motifs with chain-stitched netting, zig-zagging between the pieces. Some mesh designs also use double and treble crochets or picots, and they can follow a distinct pattern or be very freeform.
Once you try Irish crochet, you'll find yourself hooked on the ability to make either modern or traditional designs. Start with a small design and fingering weight yarn and you'll see it come together quickly. From there, who knows what you may create?