Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Kate's Wedding Dress and Carrickmacross Lace

What a lovely way to spend a few hours, watching the happy occasion of William and Kate's Royal Wedding on television. Like most of us I was eager to see her wedding dress and I thought she looked beautiful and feminine, yet tastefully understated - as much as a royal wedding in Westminster Abbey in front of 1900 people can be understated.

I wanted to find out just how the lace bodice and lace edged veil had been created and did find some tantalising snippets about the making of the dress.  But, after reading through the description on The Official Royal Wedding (ORW) website and which is echoed on the Royal School of Needlework (RSN) site, I must admit I was a little confused about just how the embroidery was done.

It's clearly stated that the lace design was appliqued using the Carrickmacross technique. The Telegraph on the other hand says the work was 'influenced by' the Carrickmacross technique, an interesting distinction and I'll come back to it later. To get an idea of what Carrickmacross looks like here's a small piece of Carrickmacross I completed after a workshop given by Tricia Elvin-Jensen. It's fine, exacting embroidery and it's very time consuming to make. When ordering a veil from Carrickmacross in Ireland, a full year's notice is required to ensure that the work is completed in time. I can understand that it would take so long to embroider.

Design by Tricia Elvin-Jensen 2003
What is Carrickmacross? It is an embroidery technique where a fine fabric like organdie is tacked onto a net background. Next, the applique design is outlined by couching it down with a cord-like thread around the motifs, through both the fabric and the net. Then unwanted fabric around the motifs is cut away. The remaining open areas of net may be further embroidered. Carrickmacross also often has a very easily recognised edging of picots. These picots take the form of open loops of fine thread. Picots can be seen on the inner wings of my butterfly and along the lower edge of this Carrickmacross collar, probably made between somewhere 1820 and 1920. (Photo: Flickr).

Have a look at Carrickmacross lace in the process of being stitched on this Mirror wedding page. Whether this is a part of the actual wedding dress or veil is difficult to say. It does however show good detail of the pattern underneath the embroidery, the picots being stitched and how the fabric is cut away to leave the motif applied to the net background. Thanks to Lynne Laver who found this illuminating illustration of the Carrickmacross technique.

So that is basically Carrickmacross. Now to get back to the making of the wedding dress on the official ORW website. It goes on to say that lace flowers were cut out from lace and appliqued onto silk tulle, and more specifically that hand cut English Cluny Lace and French Chantilly Lace has been used throughout the bodice and skirt. There is specific mention that delicate motifs were accurately cut out from the lace fabrics and stab stitched onto the new design.This is clearly a different process to making true Carrickmacross lace. It could perhaps be considered to be based on the Carrickmacross technique where one fabric is applied to another by couching down shaped motifs and cutting away the unwanted bits of fabric.

Here is what I'm thinking: Either a technique similar to Carrickmacross was used to apply exisiting lace motifs to the dress and veil.

Or, perhaps two different techniques were in fact used. True hand-embroidered Carrickmacross for the veil and a Carrickmacross-like technique for the dress. I can well imagine that the veil was edged with hand-embroidered Carrickmacross  lace. The ORW website does say that the veil is made of layers of silk tulle with a trim of hand-embroidered flowers, made by the Royal School of Needlework. Perhaps the dress on the other hand, an enormous project,  was made by stitching on the lace motifs that were cut from lace fabric, a technique influenced by Carrickmacross. I can't quite imagine that both these techniques would have been employed together on one garment. I think they'd look too different to place them side by side.

If you have discovered some other snippets about how the dress was made, I'd love to hear about them. From the bits of information I've found it's difficult to know just how the lace work was done and I can only guess at it.

On a slightly different note, I did appreciate the RSN's description of how embroiderers washed their hands every 30 minutes to keep the fabrics clean. (Do they have a secret soap they use that keeps their fingers soft and smooth with all that hand washing?). Only short lengths of thread 30cm in length were used, with no knots on the back of the work which had to look as good as the front, especially for the veil. Also interesting was that the needles were discarded after 3 hours of work so that only sharp clean needles were in use. All I can say is I'm surprised that needles really can go blunt in that short space of time doing such delicate work. Mmmm, I think I'm definitely way overdue for some new needles.

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  1. Many thanks! This brought back many memories of my own communion veil of 1960 & wedding veil of1975 ,the beauty of which could never be surpassed!!! Anita

    1. So glad you enjoyed the blog, thanks Anita! Your comment reminded me of my first communion too, something I have not thought about for years. I hope to have a post up in a day or two about the veil I made for my daughter's wedding.

  2. Excellent blog! You've answered my question about what kind of technique I can use to put some chantilly lace on a silk net. Modified carrickmacross, of course! I was totally wrong for my first try with a "point de paris".

    1. I'm so glad you found the post useful. Thanks for your comment. Your silk net project sounds very interesting. Perhaps you will post a photo of it one day. Good luck!