Irish Crochet Cushion Cover - Part 1

I've just moved from California to Florida. It's a new city, a new state and most significantly for this post, a new house.  My nesting instinct is in overdrive as we settle in to our new home and nearly all my free time right now is house-related.  One of my projects is updating our sofa cushions, and I was dreaming about a pillow in Irish Crochet.  

It's a project that I'm making just for me, but I decided to share my progress on the blog because this technique is just  so mysterious for so many people.  Although I teach a Craftsy class on crochet lace and even devote an entire lesson to Irish Crochet, we really only had time to present an introduction within the context of such a broad course that introduced so many different techniques.  It's not that Irish Crochet is crazy difficult, it's just that there's a lot going on with the technique and a lot of it is freeform.  Because so much of what you're doing is going by feel, it can't easily be reduced to specifics like a pattern with lines of instructions. That's what makes it difficult to teach.  

This series of blog posts about my Irish Crochet Cushion Cover will be an attempt to scratch a little deeper beyond my intro lesson on Craftsy.  I'll share my sources, my process as well as document and discuss my progress. If you have questions, please ask - they'll help me understand what you want to read about next time I blog this project.

I chose Lucci Hemp in brick for the project yarn. It's a rich orange with a bit more texture to it than a crochet cotton would have, but not so rustic that the stitches lose definition.






The first step in any Irish Crochet project is creating the motifs.  I decided to go with the more traditional approach of using padding cord and crocheting over it to make rather thick motifs.  Padding cord is just one or more strands of yarn that you crochet over to create a heavier and more textured border for the edge of your motif.  You can see the heavy edges in the crochet flower motif above.  For many of the motifs, I crocheted around 4 strands of yarn.

I followed old instructions that are in the public domain.  The Antique Pattern Library has an amazing collection of Irish Crochet resources, all of them absolutely free.  They are mostly publications from the late 1800s and early 1900s.  These old pattern books can be a bit vague, and some of the terminology is different today, but many of the photos are excellent, so it isn't too hard to figure out what to do. There are so many great books freely available there, but don't miss the book Irish Crochet Lace by Therese de Dillmont, it is one of the classic references for the technique.  It contains patterns for motifs, instructions for using padding cord and so much more.

I really had fun spending hours poring through old pattern books and selecting a collection of motifs that I thought would make an interesting composition.  What can be a big surprise is the size of your motif once you complete it.  In a lot of the instructions in those old books, they are using incredibly fine crochet yarns, so using the hemp, even though it is fingering weight, was almost like working with a bulky yarn in comparison, so a few of my motifs were much bigger than I expected.

By the time the thought had occured to me to blog about this project, I'd already laid out the motifs and started to join them. The photo above is a snapshot at that stage. But you can still clearly see the motifs that I chose and get a good idea of the way layout looks before I filled in with grounding stitches. I decided to make about 22 padded rings that could be inserted to fill the space between tight joins, or grouped together into grape-like clusters.

I used a border also from the old Irish Crochet books, although I'm using it in a way it was not intended.  Traditionally, the scalloped border was to be facing on the outside of the work, but I wanted a clean sillouhete for my pillow and opted to face the scallops inward. I have a specific cushion that I will be covering, so working that border was the most pre-planned part of the project. I had to make a gauge swatch and engineer it so that it would be the desired size.  It serves as the frame for the project.

I chose some muslin cloth to serve as my temporary background for the work and used very loose stitches with sewing thread and needle to temporarily attach the border to the muslin.  

I chose to use straight pins (and even some double-sided tape!) to position my motifs within the border frame.  I didn't want to sew the interior motifs down because I wanted flexibility to move them around later if I changed my mind.  It's also a matter of time.  In the photo below you can see a cluster of padded rings individually stitched to the muslin - I learned through doing that I didn't want to take the time to do that again.

I used double-sided tape with some of the groupings of padded rings for similar reasons: putting a pin in each ring before I had decided to join them in their final configuration was like handling a prickly porcupine every time I picked up my work.  As I finalize the configuration of each cluster of padded rings (I'm still deciding on their final placement, I might even whip out a few more), I sew them together with tapestry needle and yarn and use a single pin to affix the group to the fabric.

So, with motifs laid out and securely attached, it's time to join the motifs!  This is the real crux of Irish Crochet and I think the only real way to learn it is by doing it.

I've had the pleasure of taking one of Máire Treanor's classes at a past CGOA Conference, and I was so pleased to see she'd done a video workshop with Interweave so that anyone can purchase her class and watch it at home (it's even downloadable!).  I think her class is an excellent next step for those who take my class on Craftsy and want to delve deeper into the technique. Máire specializes in Clones Lace, which uses a Clone's Knot trellis pattern for the grounding (or background, she calls them "fill stitches") that fills the space between the motifs and also joins them together.  

You can see Máire doing a Clones Knot on YouTube, it's a very dimensional stitch that will take you a few minutes of practice to learn.  One key thing to keep in mind, however, is that there are all kinds of groundings you can use for Irish Crochet, so if you don't like the Clone's Knot, just choose another kind of stitch pattern. The Dillmont book, Irish Crochet Lace, has a lot of examples of groundings to inspire you.

I decided to start my grounding by edging along my largest motif.  The basic pattern of my grounding stitch is:

sc to the motif
ch 3 (or more depending, up to 6)
work a clones knot
ch 3 (or more depending, up to 6) 

    Can you follow that pattern in the photo above?

    Next time I'll dive deeper into how I'm building up the grounding and some of the design decisions I've made along the way.

    And don't forget, I'd love to hear from you.  If you have questions or feedback, don't hesitate to post in the comments below.