Technical Analysis of Vintage Irish Crochet Skirt

Irish Crochet Skirt – Edwardian Era, ca 1910
Technical Analysis by Ann Reillet, ca 2015

Irish skirt with train

This stunning antique Irish Crochet Skirt sold in 2008 at Live Auctioneers, London, Eng., likely, the country of origin, if not France. The style is Edwardian; banded waist and hem, floor length with train. There should be a button or hook-and-eye closure in back. Missing is a batiste, lawn, or silk under dress that would’ve accompanied this. I can’t help but wonder what top was worn with this finery. Similar examples of the skirt style exist, and because of the train we tend to think of them as wedding dresses, but in many cases they were everyday dresses. The original auction listing is archived at: https://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/5366341_an-irish-crochet-skirt-circa-1910-worked-with-l

Similar Patterns

What I like most about this skirt is the artistry; streams of garland draping to pool at one’s foot. Surrounded in flowers, I imagine that if I were wearing this I would feel as though I were strolling in Monet’s Garden at Giverny. The open net with picots uniquely compliments the floral arrangement. Although the maker’s identity is not stated, their skill is preserved in this intricate antique work. It’s a fine example of early 20th century Irish Crochet.

There are some identifiable components of the motifs and netting; each contributing to the overall pattern. For instance the net is a Dillmont pattern:

Dillmont, Th. de, ed.
D.M.C. Library Irish Crochet Lace
Mulhouse, Dollfus-Mieg & Cie, [c.1900], 63 pgs.
See Tenth Ground, page 31

Pattern Interpretation:
For desired length, ch increments of 11 (add 36 chains for last). sl st in 36th ch from hook, ch 1, turn. Working over this 36-ch: 5 sc, picot, 4 sc, ch 1, turn. Now we’ll focus on the remaining long ch of 11 increments. *Ch 15, sk 10, sl st in next ch (that is, the 11th ch). Ch 1, turn. Working over this 15-ch: 5 sc, picot, 4 sc, ch 1, turn. *Repeat to end. At end, continue working along the top unworked section of these 15-ch sps with: **2 sc, picot, 5 sc, picot, 4 sc, **Repeat to finish top.

To add a new row ch 9 for side, ch the distance to the closest 3rd sc of the 5 total sc between top two picots (in this case 2), then ch another 9 (in this case 9+2+9=20 chains) and resume work with a sl st in the 3rd sc that is between the 2 top picots, ch 1, turn. 5 sc over ch, picot, 4 sc over ch, ch 1 turn, ch 15, sl st in next 3rd sc of 5 total sc between top picots, ch 1, turn, 5 sc over ch, picot, 4 sc over ch, ch 1 turn and continue to end. At end, continue back by working the top in the same manner as previous.

Note: It’s a large net. Working in size 30 thread with a No. 11 hook, I can fit my thumb into the spaces. Still, it’s an attractive net, Venetian style, sturdy yet pliable. I believe Dillmont suggested size 60-100 thread [US 40-80]. I digress, but did you know that Nikola Tesla once commented on his mother’s handicraft saying she could knot an eyelash with her nimble fingers. Unfortunately, no one can say this of me. Working in size 80 thread, making a pomegranate motif, I gouged the ring finger of my left hand, leaving a permanent scar. Anyway, where I was going with this is that Sophie T. LaCroix did a variation of this net in Old & New Designs, Vol. 2, ca. 1900 and it’s smaller than the Dillmont net because it contains only one picot and fewer chains between spaces.

Photos: Sophie’s Net, ca. 1900 and Modern Piece, 2014

The motifs in the skirt appear to come from the same Dillmont book, although in style they’re reminiscent of Mme. Hardouin’s Album de Guipure d’Irlande series. Indeed, one of the components I could find only in the Hardouin series. Both Dillmont and Hardouin volumes were published prior to 1910; 1900 and1905, respectively; I would attribute both as a maker’s source, together with some freeform work. It is because of these French sources that I suggest the skirt could’ve originated in France.

While it’s likely that many other books exist wherein identical motif patterns might be found, only certain books are archived in the Antique Pattern Library, (my source for this analysis). These records, having been donated or purchased, scanned, and uploaded at great cost and effort. Truly without the work of archivists worldwide many of these books would be lost to history, available only to the few who possess them. If you or someone you know can donate to this charity it’s a worthy cause. The library is constantly growing and in need of donations and volunteers.

http://www.antiquepatternlibrary.org

Flowers:

Let’s look at some of the motifs that are visible from the auction photos, starting with the small square petal flower. The center commences as an Irish Rose but halts after one round, then five (5) netted petals are added. I was unable to find an identical match to this flower, but the netted petals are shown in the Dillmont book.

Next we come to a large flower with button center. Again, a combination of various patterns. The result of which resembles a pincushion flower; the mourning bride or cream variety, which has an interesting history in the medical journals as it was once thought to cure scabies, thus it’s named scabiosa Caprifoliaceace; a member of the Honeysuckle family. These flowers are native to Europe and some parts of the Middle East.

I believe some components of this flower; its button for example, was made separately and sewn to the piece. Below is a rose/chrysanthemum that I made in one piece of continuous thread. Beginning with a standard Irish Rose, working two tiers, the next round is all sc into the ch4s that would’ve served as the 3rd tier. To make the chrysanthemum type petals layer, crochet into the front loop only working out 10 chs and bringing that back in with sc in 2nd ch from hook, hdc in next, 5 dc, hdc and sc near the base, sl st in next front loop, all around. They’ll curl naturally. Once a tier of petals is made, sc in each back loop for one round so that again there are two loops to work from. Work another round of petals in the front loop, followed by sc in the back loop and continue in this manner for the desired size. I worked 4 rounds of long narrow petals and stopped; although there’s no reason why additional large leaf-like petals couldn’t be added in back in a continued procession to closely resemble the pincushion flower.

Rose Chrysanthemum by me

Padded Ring, Standard Irish Rose
2 tiers, followed by chrysanthemum petals.

The last flower that can be seen in the photo is a garland of tiny 6 petal open-work motifs arranged to form a bow. This is called a composite motif when several units; not necessarily of the same design, are arranged to form a larger shape, in this case the flowers become a ribbon and bow. There are at least 100 of these small flowers visible in the image; possibly these continue and extend around the perimeter.

Examples of Composite Crochet

In composite crochet, a pattern is laid out, of which the outline is the main focus. An amalgam of small motifs, typically flowers, are arranged within the outline and hand-sewn to join as one piece. The results are intricate in appearance but relatively easy to accomplish. The style has been seen in decoupage for years, but could be worked in many mediums: paper, yarn, thread, etc.

LEAVES:

A variety of leaves and heavy vine work are used throughout the skirt design. Many are part of a trio of standard leaf shapes, others are banded with raised padding or contain netting similar to the square petals of some flowers.

VINES:

For information on technique for crocheting vines, see my post at:

https://crochetthread.wordpress.com/2015/08/13/irish-crochet-motif-berry-sprig/

 

The hours it took to make this dress; the sheer number of motifs and one of the most arduous nets. It’s really amazing.

So how was it made?

It’s likely this skirt required substantial time to make. A pattern was made or purchased, the outline chalked and stitched onto cambric. The waist band, fastener/closure, and lower trim filled in.

waistband

Waistband

The motifs were made, possibly as many as 400 individual motifs. These were all handmade and blocked in preparation for use. Tails were tucked in, then motifs were arranged along cambric and sewn face down [although, with the Venetian net, because it’s worked back and forth, it is not necessary to turn the motifs over when adding the net] or joined to one another when possible. The netting was worked vertically from the bottom up, but at times and in smaller areas, it was worked side to side, in a smaller adjusted size.

Simply amazing!

Could it be replicated?

The short answer is No. Because Irish Crochet is a free form technique, no two projects are ever truly identical. However, the style could be incorporated into a new piece.

If I were to make this:

1. Pattern: Start by purchasing either a paper sewing pattern from Lauren’s website at https://wearinghistory.com (the Cordelia pattern) or look for similar patterns or vintage fabric garments on ebay because they’re listed there from time to time. Basically, shop around and compare prices.

2. Platform: Purchase a piece of foam pad in a size sufficient to lay the pattern. JoAnn’s is a good place to find foam pad.

3. Material:

Thread: Purchase at least four (4) 2400 yd cones of size 20 crochet cotton in Natural [or white, as in the case of a wedding dress]. This yardage is a ‘guesstimate’. Yarn Barn out of Kansas is a great place to buy cones online.
Also ecru/natural [or white] cotton sewing thread and sewing needles.
Pins: Have a healthy supply of sewing pins at least 1″ long with rounded tops.
Hook: Work with a #10 steel hook and have a spare hook on hand.
Cambric: A finely woven cloth of a solid color large enough to fit the pattern or use a flat mattress sheet.
Notions: Buttons or hook-and-eye clasps. Waist band and hem fabric. Under/Slip fabric.

4. Prep Design: Transfer the pattern from the paper to the cloth. I use a window: Iron the pattern and scotch tape it to the window, iron the cloth, tape the cloth over the pattern and trace the outline with an erasable chalk sewing pencil. No hem allowance is needed because the crocheted pieces are whip-stitched together. Then re-fold, save or resell the paper sewing pattern. An example shown here:

_MG_3766

I like visual aids; having a small sketch of the design. Focus on the vertical draping flower arrangement. Personally, I would try to incorporate the look of the Venise lace spray because it’s a little neater.

Finally, cut-press-pin-sew the waist band using a stretch fabric and sewing thread by hand or use a machine. For the lower hem, I would prefer this be invisible; crocheted over.

5. Pattern: Start with a crochet chain around the perimeter of the pattern outline on the cambric. This chain, being pinned along the inside of the waist band so as not to interfere with the waist band, but on the lower trim pin to the very bottom so it covers the hem.

Next, work the closure; any buttons or clasps or zippers. An example shown here:

_MG_3885

Find a large crochet flower pattern or create one that is similar to the original skirt and commence with the vertical drape, making each flower and/or leaf in the design drawn out to the scale of the pattern. Once one of the drapes is done, 3 more identical are made (2 in front, 2 in back). Then block and iron, arrange on pattern, pinning on cambric.  I would  make the first one separate, then do the other 3 or possibly 5 strips. These strips, in length, need to go from the waist to the knees. If you look closely at the left front (right facing) it appears the length started from waist to floor and the artist changed their mind, curled it upward on itself and netted the circle formed by this action, then worked the remaining strips from waist to knee only.

For the lower ‘busy’ portion of the skirt, there are a lot of motifs, plus the bow. Start with the bow because everything else arranges around it and its the main focal piece on the bottom. Once the bow is made, blocked, ironed and pinned in place on the cambric, make fill-in flowers and leaf sprays according to sketches and block, press, pin to pattern.

A thought occurred to me. Not to promote cheating but if one ever found a distressed vintage Irish Crochet garment at a decent price, perhaps something with stains or coming undone, maybe the motifs could be salvaged and used in a modern project. Somehow re-purposing something old into an antique pattern seems fitting.

6. Netting: Once everything is pinned in place and secured to the foam pad, commence netting using the Dillmont pattern. Bottom up. Pinning and moving pins to hold the net in place. After 4 or 5 rows, make a grid (pencil rubbing) to use as a guide between motifs; to keep the net lined up.

7. Finishing: Once the net is complete. Remove pins and lift off as one piece. Starch/iron and create a custom slip.

The end result would not be identical to the vintage skirt, but the style and essence of the design would be strikingly similar.

Sources:
Pinterest, skirt photo pins
liveauctioneers.com, original auction listing of physical garment
Ebay, similar skirts and vintage Irish Crochet
Wikipedia; flowers: members of honey suckle family
wearinghistory.com, a sewing pattern in this style
Antique Pattern Library, similar patterns
LunarHeavenly, Japanese website, example of specific type of crochet: composite motif

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