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Crocheted lace is a crocheted, decorative, open weave fabric made of thread rather than yarn. It is worked with very small crochet hooks, so that the overall appearance is as delicate and intricate as bobbin lace or needle lace. “Crocheted lace” usually refers to work with thread, while the term “lace crochet” is normally used for open weave crochet work done with yarn. The widespread use of crochet and thread to make lace began in the mid-1800s. Although there are many styles of crocheted lace, the best known is Irish crochet.
In the 1800s in Europe and the United States, lace was very popular for clothing and household use. Crocheting lace was faster and easier than the older bobbin lace or needle lace techniques, but it used more thread. This was a disadvantage when thread was spun by hand and was therefore relatively expensive. Once the textile mills of the Industrial Revolution made machine spun thread widely available, crocheted lace could compete quite well commercially with the older lace production methods. Nowadays, commercial lace is almost all machine made, but crocheted lace continues to be made by those who enjoy the process and prize the look of the finished product.
Until the early 20th century, lace making was a cottage industry, meaning women, older children, and sometimes men, made it at home. For economically distressed areas such as Ireland, crocheted lace production supplied a much-needed source of income. In some places schools opened to teach these techniques and some areas became famous for the particular look of their lace.
For most types of crocheted lace, the piece is worked as a whole. The background fabric is a delicate web, or grid, with geometric or representational motifs worked into it at intervals. Use of different stitches and choice of decorative elements allow the look to vary widely. Early crocheted lace deliberately imitated the fashionable Italian needle lace of the time and used many nature themed motifs, including flowers, vines, birds, and animals. Multi-part geometric designs were also popular.
Irish crochet is made in parts rather than worked as a piece, which allowed each worker to specialize in a particular part of the process. Motifs, called spriggs in this style, are worked individually, usually over a piece of fabric cord, which makes them thicker. Finished spriggs are fastened to a piece of fabric with temporary stitches, then the mesh background of the lace is worked between the spriggs. When the work is complete it is cut from the fabric. The thickness of the motifs means they stand above the mesh, giving Irish crochet its characteristic three-dimensional look.
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