Irish crochet is about texture and artistry. The intricate motifs and picot netting create an illusion of flowers caught in a spider’s web. At its finest, it is elegant and timeless.
A single motif, in its complexity, may take a few minutes or several days to make. Many are needed for even the smallest project. For this reason, it’s often impractical to realize a profit from the making and selling of handmade Irish Crochet, but compare any piece to modern machine-made lace and you’ll know it’s worth its weight in gold.
One option is to combine sections with fine fabric as insertion lace. This reduces the amount of work. To learn insertion techniques, see Lauren’s amazing tutorial here: http://wearinghistoryblog.com/2012/04/tutorial-attaching-laces-to-each-other-gathering-lace/
If you’re interested in learning the needle method for creating net, see Lorelei Halley’s Point de Gaze tutorial on how to make the “Two Twist Whipped English Stitch” here: http://www.lynxlace.com/StitchesofPointdeGaze.html
For further study, see Priscilla Needlework Book ca. 1898. This book can be viewed online free at Antique Pattern Library in the cut work section of their catalog.
Helpful to Know.
Assuming you already know how to crochet and understand basic techniques; perhaps made a doily and worked with thread? If not, thread sizes are explained herein, but if you’re just learning to crochet, I recommend “Crochet Geek” on YouTube, as this tutorial doesn’t cover basics. You don’t need to be an expert in crochet to learn the Irish method, however, it’s helpful to know a few techniques that are involved:
CORDS: I-Cords and Romanian Point Lace Cords look beautiful in Irish Crochet, but true Irish Cord is made with padding. Padding is basically a technique that creates thickness in the edging. Instead of making a chain and crocheting over the chain, you use several strands (usually 4-10) of a thicker thread and crochet over the thickness of the thread. You can use the same thread that you’re crocheting with. I use a size 3, 5 or 10 for padding cord. By using a larger thread, it takes less thread to create bulk. This thread, whatever size, by its use is called “cord”. Another way to think about it is: Cords can replace a chain or previous rows to add bulk, while padding (see below) is more like tucking in a tail. Both Cord and Pad add bulk or thickness so often seen in motifs and Irish Crochet.
PADDING: It’s also helpful to understand how padding is used within the motifs of Irish Crochet. You can experiment with this technique by wrapping the thread around your 4th finger 7 times, sliding it off, hold in place and sc over the thickness of the wrapped cord and the tail from the slip knot. Once the circle is filled with stitches, trim excess tail and join with a sl st to the 1st sc. As you continue making the motif, add padding again, in the form of 1 long cut strand folded in half then folded again, using the solid end to secure, then crochet over all the strands and the area of the motif you want to pad similar to crocheting over a tail to tuck it in while you’re working. The result is 3-dimensional, which adds texture to the motif.
Here’s a free padded leaf pattern: http://crochetthread.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/irish-crochet-motif-leaf/
CLONES KNOT: A Clones Knot is similar to a Bullion Stitch or embroidery’s French Knot in that it is grouped stitches. There are online videos to help master the clones knot. If it’s too difficult, you can use a standard picot (ch 4, sc in the 4th ch from hook) to create decorations along the netted background. It’s best to practice the clones knot to perfection; and it may take a lot of practice, but it’s an important stitch to learn for Irish Crochet. It’s neater and bulkier than the picot, making it well worth the effort of learning.
Tip: Steel hooks with barrels close to the tapered end work best. If it has a thumb tab, that is fine. If you find a hook that makes clones knotting easy, label it for this specific use. The goal is to make clones knots of consistent size and spacing.
To make a clones knot, practice as follows. When practicing, use whatever thread and hook size you’re comfortable with, but the thinner the thread, the nicer it will look:
(Starting chain) sl kn, ch 5
(Set up) Looking at the loop that is on the hook from the 5th ch, push that loop up onto the barrel of the hook, away from the tapered end, but not on the narrow thumb tab. Looking at your thread feeding hand, (left, if you’re right handed) widen your thread holding stance and keep the thread feed taught. Looking back at your hook holding hand, (right, if you’re right-handed) slide the thumb and index finger down to the base of the hook, gently gripping it with your thumb and index finger.
(Now begin) *Hook under thread, catching thread and spin the hook 360 degrees horizontally (anti-clockwise if right-handed). Make sure the thread that moves onto the hook comes to a rest on the barrel next to the starting loop that was already on the hook. Having pivoted the hook, working from the opposite side now, mirror what you just did by hooking under the thread, catching a thread and rotating back 360 degrees to starting point. The 3rd loop should also rest on the barrel next to the two preceding loops. *Repeat. Counting the total times you spin, when you reach six (6) and you’re back to the starting normal crochet forward position, hold the bottom of those loops by the beginning chain with your thread feeding hand (mainly the thumb and index finger) yarn over bringing your hook holding hand back into normal position, ease the loops onto the narrow tapered end of the hook and pull through all the loops on the hook at once. Quickly ch 1 to hold the sts in place.
(Finish off) Now, looking back at this creation, there is the ch-1 you just made and the clone’s knot, followed by the chain on the opposite side: you can either: sl st or sc in the 1st ch on that opposite side, closest to the clones knot, OR you can sl or sc under the entire ch-5; as always, there are variations, but this last st hugs the picot to form a ball.
(Repeat) Ch 5 and make another clones knot.
THREAD SIZES: Various sizes of thread are employed in making Irish Crochet. Traditional vintage sizes range from 60-80, which in modern crochet terms are defined as tatting thread; all of which use a 0.6mm #14 hook and smaller. For beginners: Larger threads (size 3, 5 and 10) should be used for padding, thinner threads (20+) for motifs and the thinnest (30+) for netting.
If you’ve only worked with yarn, it’s a good idea to start with a large size 0 steel hook and sock yarn to make your first motif, as you get comfortable with the steel hooks, decrease the sock yarn to size 3 thread, then 5, then 10 (with a size 7 steel hook). The idea is to decrease gradually and build confidence.
Thread size is a confusing aspect of crochet. For instance, the lustrous non divisible DMC perle #8 is similar to US size 20. Yet, the hand over-dyed 3 twist Valdani #8 is similar to US size 30. Oren Bayan #60 is similar to US size 40. I use US size 20 or 30 in the Coat’s & Clark Brand of “Aunt Lydia’s Fine Crochet Thread” on a spool containing at least 400 yds.
Consistency is Key
As with all crochet projects, consistent stitch work and patterned arrangement of motifs net the best results. If the stitches are too loose or the arrangement haphazard, the piece loses its sense of balance. This applies to the netted background as well.
Skill Level Increases with Practice
My first attempt at Irish Crochet was a baby bib… best to start small. For the first project, I used only size 10 thread. All of my instructions came from vintage sources; it was very confusing. That is why I created this tutorial. Over the past few years, I’ve completed several Irish Crochet projects, I’m nowhere near Galina “Asia” Verten, but my skill level continues to improve and yours can too! You can see my first project here: http://crochetthread.wordpress.com/2011/12/30/irish-crochet-bib/
Steps you will need to take to make Irish Crochet:
1. Study & learn all you can about Irish Crochet from many sources. Irish Crochet is a free form technique; there are no rules per se, only variations to achieve similar results. Whether in the layout or netting, with or without a pattern, each piece is truly unique.
2. Build up a supply of padded motifs. For beginners, motifs should be crocheted in a minimum thread size of 10 (preferably 20) with a size 7 or higher steel hook. Start with an Irish Rose and Venetian Leaf, then branch out; palm leaves, stars, oak leaves, grape vines. The possibilities are endless.
While this tutorial is for beginners, I encourage you to experiment, especially as you gain experience, employ smaller finer thread; even colored threads. Irish Crochet is traditionally a white work, but it looks great in color, and scarfs can be done in lace and sport weight yarn: (See Nicky Epstein’s Irish scarf patterns at Caron yarn.)
Shown left is one of Nicky’s afghan designs that I altered to create this Irish chair back cover in #10 thread.
Tip: When it comes to pattern arrangement, balancing motifs is key. If you want a mirror effect, make at least two of each motif and don’t forget vine work and leaves.
Here’s a motif I created: http://crochetthread.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/free-irish-crochet-pattern-escape-flower-motif/
3. Prepare a workspace consisting of cambric cloth for penciling (nonpermanent sewing pencil) pattern outlines, thin cardboard such as watercolor paper for stabilizing the cloth, and foam pad or styrofoam that is thick enough to absorb sewing pins, which are used to secure the motifs and border while the net is being made.
You can read more about the workspace here: http://crochetthread.wordpress.com/2013/06/09/irish-crochet-board-creating-a-workspace/
4. Decide what you’re going to make. I recommend starting with a small item, not larger than a placemat. Suggestions: Bib, bonnet , collar, cuffs, coasters, corner piece for napkins or placemats, etc…
5. Pencil or chalk the outline onto cambric (don’t use permanent ink otherwise you can’t re-use the cloth). Trace an actual item, such as a bib or collar or create your own design. For clothing, trace the outline of a cut-out paper sewing pattern. The idea here is: This is your final sketch; the shape your garment will take.
6. Crochet a chain that is exactly long enough to cover the outline. Try not to pull it taut, but lay with consistent tension. Make sure the chain is flat as you pin it on the outline so it doesn’t become twisted. If you’re following an example piece, some have cord in the outline and that’s fine if you want greater thickness in the edge. Either method works cord or chain and pad can always be added over the chain as an edging in the final round.
Pin the border in place and/or sew it down with a temporary basting stitch along the penciled outline on the cloth using a colored thread that contrasts with the crochet thread. Slip stitch or sew the ends of the border chain together to join like a necklace. The idea is that you want the border to be complete and stay in place while making the net. I’ve done both methods, sewing and pinning. The only difference was: sewing took time and effort initially and at the end when I had to pull all that thread out to lift the garment up, while the pinning method was faster and easier, however I had to jostle the pins at times if they happened to be sitting on the stitch in the chain that I was after while making the netted background and of course all those pins had to be removed at the end. So the difference is simply a trade-off.
7. Arrange your motifs so they fit inside the border in a pattern that is pleasing to you. I recommend sewing in the tails and snipping the ends of the motifs to keep the work area clean while you’re making the netted background. Iron the motifs first. You can gum and block them now or later, if you want to do that now see step 13.
8. TURN the motifs over so they are facing down and pin in place, pushing the pins all the way down so they’re not in the way. The reason for turning the motifs over is so it will look like the netting is coming from behind and pushing the motifs forward, thus improving the finished look.
You can see the finished scarf here: http://crochetthread.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/irish-crochet-shrug/
Pinning the motifs is quicker and easier than sewing them down, but you can sew them with a temporary basting stitch if you prefer. The idea is that you want the motifs to stay in place while you’re making the net.
Note: Depending on what your project is, exceptions and variations may occur. For instance, the Irish Chair Back (shown here), required no border chain to start the net, rather the netting began at the center and spiraled outward until a border could be added in the final round.
At the end of step 8, everything should be pinned down and secure to the padded workspace.
9. Start the netting in the lower corner of the largest open area (preferably at the very bottom of the border chain) because in the corner, you’ve already got 2 sides. Begin with a sl st. If you’re left-handed start on the left side of the border chain; if you’re right-handed start on the right side of the border chain. The sl st should be up 2 or 3 ch sps depending how tall you want the height of the square, ch 2, hdc (or dc depending on how tall you want the open spaces to be), do this hdc (or dc) on the lower side of the border chain, ch 2, sk 2, hdc (or dc). Now you have 2 squares, keep going.
Join to Border:
When you get to the 2nd to the last space at the end of this first row, stop and think about the letter “F” (left-handed) [or the mirror image of a letter "F" if you're right-handed]; instead of chaining 2 to the end, do a hdc (or dc) in the border chain that aligns with the top of this row. This keeps you in place, then chain up and repeat before changing directions for the next row.
Tip: Try to avoid chaining and slip stitching in the border, rather work a dc in the border to join. This avoids uneven borders because if you do sl st in the border, you usually have to continue slip stitching up the ch to obtain sp for the next mesh.
Join to Motifs:
As you work up to the motifs, insert your hook in the st where you want the join to be, sc, then continue with your chs and hdc (or dc), trying to keep your rows lined up as much as possible. You can sl st over the back of the motif to get to the other side or you can work the area in between, tie off and work the next area, whichever you prefer.
By starting with a simple square shaped net, you will quickly gain an understanding of how the background is applied. The hardest thing for some will be re-learning how to position your hands and hold your hook because with everything pinned in place, it limits your movement. Rather than bringing the work to you, you have to accommodate it. Try not to pull at the motifs, instead, turn the workspace 180 degrees, one row will feel natural and the next… awkward. Later on, maybe on the next project, you can experiment with doing a cluster stitch, picot trellis, bullion stitch or clones knot.
If you’d like to learn traditional netting, practice as follows:
Note: When filling, the net is usually done in a smaller thread size than the motifs, but when you’re learning for the first time and practicing something new, use whatever thread and hook size you’re comfortable with and don’t worry about your edges, just focus on the pattern of the stitch; that is what’s important. Remember that when you’re making the net, you already have a border pinned down so your edges join to that framework.
Use either a standard picot or clones knot:
Traditional Irish Trellis with Two Picots:
1st Row: ch 58 (a multiple of 7 + 2)
2nd Row: sc in the 2nd ch from hook, *ch 2, picot (ch 4, sc in 4th ch from hook), ch 3, picot, ch 2, sk 6, sc in the 7th ch, *repeat to end. Turn.
Note how wide the stitch is: 7 chains (2, 3, and 2) with two picots; that is why smaller (size 60+) thread is used.
3rd Row: *ch 2, picot, ch 3, picot, ch 2, sc in 2nd ch of prev 3 chs betw picots, *repeat to end. Turn.
Note: For this practice tutorial, there should always be eight (8) full trellis per row. The edges are not straight-straight, but rather triangular with the outer picots aligning to form a “straight edge.” These picots are where you would join to the border.
4th Row, etc. Repeat Row 3.
Basic Trellis with Single Picot:
1st Row: ch 26 (a multiple of 5 + 1)
2nd Row: sc in 2nd ch from hook *ch 5, sk 4 ch, sc in next ch *repeat across. Turn.
3rd Row: *ch 5, in 3rd ch of next ch 5 work sc-ch3-sc *repeat across. Turn.
4th Row: ch 1, sc in same *ch 5, sk picot, picot in 3rd ch of next ch 5 *repeat across. Turn.
To keep the edges straight, at end: ch 2, dc in the sc of last row’s 1st st.
After a dc ending: ch 2, picot in 3rd ch and continue pattern with ch 5, sk picot, picot in 3rd ch of next, etc.
Basic Trellis (no picot):
As Irish Net: Join to 3rd ch side border (from bottom), *ch 5, sk 3 chs (on bottom), sc in next, skip to 2nd row instruction. At row’s end, join to opposite side with a ch 2, dc then ch up and repeat before changing direction for next row.
1st Row: ch 27 (a multiple of 4 + 3)
2nd Row: sc in 6th ch from hook, *ch 5, sk 3 ch, sc in next *repeat across. Turn.
3rd Row: *ch 5, sc in next ch 5 sp *repeat across. Turn
4th Row, etc: Repeat row 3
Various forms of netting can be employed including patterned stitches and filet. Another option is to make fill-in pieces of net, especially if you have large open spaces. Similar to motifs, fill-ins are worked first and pinned or sewn on cambric. Additional netting joins these little islands together. The technique creates a mosaic look and transfers time spent making the ground with everything pinned down because it’s easier to crochet when the piece is free and you can hold it in your hand.
In this example, you can see that the artist has already joined the motifs with vine work and connected them to the border using padded Irish cord to enhance the edging. It’s a Venetian technique. The fill-in pieces are then joined with the finishing net.
To start a fill-in: ch 5, sl st in 5th ch from hook to form ring, ch 3 (counts as dc), *ch 4, dc in ring, *repeat for 5 or 6 petal loops, join to 3rd ch of 1st dc, ch 3, and continue. As you tier up and outward, the ch 4 remains, but the spacing between dc decreases. You might do one round in the loops and in prev row’s dc, or put two dc in one loop. You can also quit the round direction, turn (with a ch3, ch 4) and work the reverse. The idea is to create a fill-in of fairly consistent size spacing, but less symmetry than a motif.
For the purposes herein, we won’t call this cheating. It’s actually another form of crochet from the French Guipure et a la croix or fil pour dentelles; which in modern crochet terms translates to: motifs sewn on filet. In the Guipure technique, no pad is used. The open mesh filet net is made first then shaped and ironed in preparation for motifs, which are arranged atop the net and sewn to the surface. While this is not Irish Crochet in the traditional sense, it is still handmade and the results are beautiful and symmetric. Any open-work net can be used; like a six-sided polygon: From starting ch, sk 8, dc in 9th ch, *ch 5, sk 4, dc in next ch, *repeat across ending with a dc in last ch, ch 3 turn (counts as dc), ch 5, dc in 3rd ch of 5-ch sp.
Another type of sew-on-net is Applique Lace. In this technique, it is not even necessary to know how to crochet; you buy the netting as a fabric to produce a “Faux-Irish Crochet Style” using sewing techniques only. The fabric is basted or tacked with temporary fabric tape onto a working surface, then machine-made lace, braids, and appliques, such as Venise Lace, are arranged atop to form a pattern. Appliques are secured with various stitches, usually overcasting and button hole or occasionally a darning stitch with fine thread. Once secure, the back side of the net is cut away from these motifs. On the cut area, it’s best to have an outlined motif, braid, or edging opposite. Fabric fray block also helps to maintain the structure of the netted fabric.
Whether it’s Irish Crochet, French Guipure, Point Lace or Maltese Crochet Art everything traces its roots to Venetian Lace. This is where the oldest, earliest examples of decorated net are found. The Venetian technique uses connecting bars as fill or net. It is typically done with a needle rather than a hook, especially Sorrento bars. However, connection bars can be created with a crochet hook in the last round of the motif at the location where a join is desired: ch 4, sc in 2nd ch from hook and in next, sl st in motif. Joins are made at the tip’s end: ch 3, insert hook in joining bar, sc, ch 1, sc in 2nd ch from hook and in next, sl st in motif. The Venetian technique does not require a pad, but it’s imperative to have a pattern drawing aforehand in order to gauge the placement of joins.
Net as you go:
Lastly, in some petal flower patterns, the net can be made as the motifs are created. In this technique, two or three of the petals are made in one row with the remainder created in the next. Since Irish Crochet is usually done with a variety of motifs, this method works best for edgings where uniformity is desired.
Another “net as you go” technique is the French Bebe Crochet, which is typically done in very fine thread (size 60+). The technique is similar to making granny squares for afghans in that each motif is created in a geometric shape which can then be joined to another motif. The technique gives the finished result a patterned look. Many motifs that begin with one shape like a star, flower, circle or even square can be adjusted with netting around the perimeter to create an entirely different shape like an octagon, diamond, square, etc.
Don’t feel you have to limit the netting to one type. Be creative! Many fine examples of Irish Crochet contain multiple nets in various sections of the garment, which, when joined together create a richer more appealing effect.
See photo (left) for an example.
10. As you make the net use pins to secure it in place. Finish the entire netted background in one sitting… just kidding. It will take a while. The netting is a sort of free-form technique that takes a little forethought as you go. For example, if you need to turn or come back, you might put 2 stitches in the same open mesh and then work down the side of it. And don’t worry, even the most mathematical mind will work themselves into a dead end. When this happens, tie off and create a new sl st or, since we’re working from the back side, sl st over the motif to get to the other side. Either method works, provided the motifs are facing down.
11. Once the entire background is made, pull out the pins and/or basting thread and lift the piece off as one garment. Weave in tails.
12. Do a row of sc around the border and/or add padding or a decorative trim.
13. Block and iron. Blocking boards with lined grids are great for squares and rectangular pieces. When blocking, I use a “gumming” technique rather than full-on washing (submerging) because, it’s new, unsoiled. To gum, I wet a wash cloth and sponge that on the garment or use a spray bottle to lightly mist, then shape and iron. When ironing, I set the temperature to cotton with steam and gently press the back side or put a linen cloth over the front and iron/press. I don’t always starch, but it’s fine to do so. Once the piece is moist and pressed, pin on blocking board or Styrofoam to dry. The idea is to have the piece dried in the proper shape and wetting/ironing enables you to shape it.
Note: Historically dry Arabic Gum was used, hence the word “gumming.” I think the mixture was something like 2 tsp of powder to 1 pint of boiling water to create a starch that would leave the piece crisp while variations of the mix (less water) would harden it to a plaster-like crocheted tree ornament. Today Arabic Gum is seen in diet supplements and glue or gelatin. For obvious reason, it’s fallen out of use as a starch.
14. Leave color as is or dye it. If dying, follow the directions on the manufacturer’s instructions. I’ve used RIT brand with some success; it was gray dye on ecru cotton thread and the color came out light gray, almost dusty blue. I prefer powder to liquid and like to combine colors for various results. There are recipes on the Rit website.
If you want multiple colors, see my post on watercolor crochet using fabric dye: http://crochetthread.wordpress.com/2013/05/19/rit-fabric-dye-crochet-watercolor/
There are a few resources that I recommend:
1) The Antique Pattern Library. Best FREE online resource. This is where I learned about Irish Crochet. http://www.antiquepatternlibrary.org/
2) Best FREE Video Tutorials: http://www.youtube.com/user/Sheruknittingcom/videos
3) YouTube Channel titled Lace from Ireland. Several free tutorials from an authentic Irish source. http://www.youtube.com/user/lacefromireland
4) YouTube Channel titled Ira Rott. Not a tutorial, but her work is amazing to watch. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wMpQN4DlK0
5) A world-wide collaboration of Irish Crochet. Once you’re over the total newbie stage, this is an excellent resource for advancing your skill. Mostly pay-by-instruction tutorials, but worth it if you want to take it to the next level. http://irishcrochettogether.blogspot.com/2013/02/a-true-collaboration.html
6) For color and texture motifs, some pay/some free, check out Nicole Galen’s patterns at mypicot.com
Irish Crochet by Yhteinen Ystava
I had to throw this one in because anyone who knows me isn’t surprised that: I bought a Japanese book to learn Irish crochet. I only wish I’d discovered it sooner! The scarf on the cover is gorgeous, but there are a lot of motifs and purse patterns. Though the book is written in Japanese, a language I do not speak, charts follow a universal language. ;-)
The Russians & Ukrainians have forever changed the face of Irish Crochet; all that wonderful color and texture. Designers like Miroslava Gorokhovich and Antonina Bobrova have renewed interest in Irish lace the world over. In the same way that Ireland made the French guipure their own by creating shamrocks and thistles, so too have the northerners captured a culture.
For amazing charted patterns, google Duplet Magazine .