Well, this post was a bit delayed as my laptop at home bit the dust. I've been using a really old Dell laptop while the Hubby is traveling with our Mac and the Dell just couldn't keep up with me. I'm toying with the idea of buying another Mac so that Hubby and I have our own dependable laptops, but in the meantime I am stealing a few moments here and there on my iPhone, or when I just have to have a full screen - at work. (I swear I only blog on my break!)
I have been anxious to post about what was my favorite part of our trip to Ireland. I had seen Mountmellick embroidery described and seen the technique discussed in books, but at some point I came across an article describing the town in Ireland where this technique developed. The history behind the town of Mountmellick and the development of this specific type of embroidery is so interesting and, once we planned our trip to Ireland, I decided to see about scheduling a class to learn this technique!
Mountmellick, Ireland is a small town in County Laois (pronounced "Leash") in central Ireland. This town was settled by Quakers - which I found so interesting considering the impact Quakers have had on so many areas in the U.S.. These hard working people established several industries including breweries, distilleries, woolen mills, cotton mills, tanneries and glass factories. The site I linked to has a ton of information on the town that is - in my opinion - fascinating. Mountmellick in the 19th century was apparently a boomtown and known as the "Manchester" of Ireland. The industry that the Quakers established was not their only contribution. As is true of their history here in the U.S., this group of people was well known for their efforts to reform such institutions as slavery, education and the prison system. They were also instrumental in famine relief during the Great Famine in Ireland in the 1840s.
In addition to being an interesting town with a ton of history, it's also a pretty area with great people.
The cotton mills in Mountmellick in the 19th century seem to have set part of the background for the development of Mountmellick embroidery, as well as the desire to create employment for local women. My instructor for the day, Collette, told me that the white on white embroidery being done in France and other areas was very popular at the time. Mountmellick embroidery was created as a way to capitalize on the that popularity while using the more practical fabric of white cotton jean - which was readily available in Mountmellick - and embroidered with cotton thread. The method is similar to crewel work, however the patterns are distinctive - inspired by nature and with several stitches that are specific only to Mountmellick embroidery:
The class was very easy to set up. They are arranged through the Mountmellick Development Association which can arrange group classes or individual classes. As we were there for a short vacation (and the Hubby was not interested in taking the class) I scheduled an individual class and so had the undivided attention of my instructor Collette (which I think I needed.)
Collette started by teaching me three stitches that are specific to Mountmellick embroidery and without which a piece can not truly be considered a Mountmellick piece: the Mountmellick stitch, the Cable Plait stitch and the Thorn stitch.
I really liked Collette's teaching style. She demonstrated the stitches for me and then allowed me to practice them for awhile. Then, instead of providing a pattern that told me that a specific stitch was required here or there, she gave me a pattern and allowed me to choose how I would use the stitches she'd taught me:
We went through the extensive collection of Mountmellick work in the museum and she showed me how other stitchers had used the various embroidery designs in their work. It was really inspirational. All of these projects - some from over two hundred years ago - were white on white, using the same collection of stitches, and yet they were so different.
It was a wonderful afternoon! I left with some new techniques, a great appreciation for the history and heritage of Mountmellick and some fantastic memories. I am very grateful that these women (especially Collette!) take the time to teach and pass on a beautiful technique to interested strangers.
I hope I'll have a finished project to share with you soon although Christmas project have been taking up a bunch of time lately. I'll try to post a round up of our Fall activities soon and then after that it's all posts about Christmas!
I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving and that preparations for Christmas are going well!