London Embroidery School: Limerick Lace

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Sadly all good things must come to an end, including the London Embroidery School’s Lace Series course but at least it ended with another nice technique, Limerick lace. Like a lot of laces, it was something I recognised, but never knew the name for and it was a really interesting experience to get the chance to work on a new ground fabric, net.

You can find a little more about the history of Limerick lace, often considered the most famous of Irish lace, here. Some of the lace was made using tambour hooks and other was done using needle and thread. You get a slightly different style of stitch depending on the equipment, but the advantage of needlerun lace is it is a little more flexible in terms of the stitches you can do.

I enjoyed framing up the net much more than the organza from the first class of the series and it proved to be much more robust than either the organza or the thin cotton for the broderie anglaise that I managed to savage quite badly. I did manage to snap a bar of the net when a securing buttonhole stitch turned into an unwanted securing knot and I did not excise good patience and judgement, but it feels surprisingly sturdy to stitch on.

The design was drawn onto tracing paper and just pinned to the net, so as you might guess it’s rather lively and moves around. However, it works quite well for the Limerick lace as you can’t always follow the design lines exactly due to the restrictions of the hexagonal grid of the net. It’s really interesting, as I discovered when I was practicing my filling stitches, what a difference the direction of stitching relative to the net can make.

Doing the filling was quite challenging. After too many years of silk shading, I desperately wanted to follow the curvature of the leaf but it would have been more natural with the gridded shape to pick an angle and stick to it. In the end, declaring this a sampler, I went for a bit of both, keeping a fixed angle at the bottom and varying it as I went through. It is very challenging to hide knots with this particular design and lace. I guess as part of a full piece they would get visually lost but they really are screaming at me in these photos. The thread is like buttonhole thread and gets very furry when you cut it so there are also small thread blooms all over the place.

Outlining stitches are quite quick to work and satisfying, especially when you just hit the right combination to get exactly the edge you wanted on a leaf or petal and a bit less of a headache. I did experiment with being less rigid when I was working some of the filling about always going up and down through the net and I think it works quite well. My one dislike of the technique is that it is very easy for things to look ‘wobbly’ – creating curved lines isn’t too bad but sometimes it’s hard to get much variation in angle without looking like you are tracing the net in stepped sections. Think this is a technique that requires the right design.

The other challenge is finding which way to go around the design – something I’m very familiar with from digitising! At least with machine embroidery though you can run up and down sections and potentially hide joining areas but not so with this lace. Plus, the knots feel all too visible so it’s worth investing some time to work out how to minimise them.

I really enjoyed this class. The advertised London Embroidery School design (which wasn’t the one we ended up stitching…) was a multicolour lace piece of a flower that really captured the ‘wobbly’ feeling that I don’t really like about this technique. However, I think the design we ended up doing was much more attractive and as there were no ‘rules’ on the filling stitches, there was a chance to try some sampling and be creative. This is always challenging when your stitch vocabulary in a technique is limited but a good push to learn more.

If you’re interested in learning a bit more about Limerick lace, although it’s not explicitly listed as Limerick lace, there is a section in Lizzie Lansbury’s brilliant RSN Whitework book on ‘net darning’ that covers three different types of stitches that are referred to as ‘circles’, ‘flowers’ and ‘waves’. They are just about clear enough you can work out whether you need to go up or down over the bars in the net but I think they’d take a bit of patience to follow.

I think this design came from Veronica Rowe’s Limerick Lace: A social history and a Maker’s Manual – which, if it is the case, contains some interesting information on the history of the technique. Apparently what differentiates Limerick lace from the net laces of France, India and Spain at the time was the sheer variety of stitches used, with many pieces containing over forty different stitch types alone! How anyone could remember that many I don’t know (there’s a reason I keep my copy of the Embroidery Stitch Bible close!)

I’m very sad this course is over. While I would have preferred longer sessions as I really like being able to get into more detail and learn more, more and more about the techniques, the evening classes were a bit of fun frivolity in a time that desperately needs some. I had optimistically booked a workshop at the upcoming 2020 Knitting and Stitching show but that has now been cancelled and I suspect this is going to be a very common story again for the next months… Keep safe with your stitching all.

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