Irish crochet was a virtual lifesaver for the people of Ireland. It pulled them out of their potato famine, which lasted from 1845 to 1850 and threw them into abject poverty.
During these times, living and working conditions for the Irish were harsh. They crocheted between farm chores and outdoors to take advantage of sunlight. After dark, they moved indoors to work by the light of a candle, a slow-burning peat fire or an oil lamp.
A place to keep their crochetwork presented a problem, for many were living in squalor. If they had no other spot it went under the bed where it inevitably became dirty. Fortunately, the crocheted piece could be washed and its original luster completely recaptured. Ironically, buyers abroad were unaware that their delicate collars and cuffs were made in primitive dwellings under poverty-stricken conditions.
Irish workers - men as well as women and children - were organized into crochet cooperatives. Schools were formed to teach the skill and teachers were trained and sent all over Ireland, where the workers were soon creating new patterns of their own. And, although more than a million died in less than 10 years, the Irish people survived the famine. Families relied on their earnings from crochet, which gave them the chance to save up enough to emigrate and start a new life abroad, taking their crochet skills with them.
Potter tells us that the Irish immigrated to America- two million between 1845 and 1859, four million by 1900. American women, busy with their spinning, weaving, knitting and quilting, could not help but be influenced to include in their handwork the crochet skills of their new neighbors.