In 1843 Charles Walker set up a factory in Limerick in Ireland where there was a large population of young unemployed females. To get a place in the factory was quite difficult. Girls had to be between 11 and 14 years, have a doctor’s certificate and a reference from an influential citizen. They trained for seven years, working from 6am to 6pm on patterns traced by tambour or chain stitch and filled by runners (darning patterns). Workers specialising in needlerun were called ‘runners’. 47 different needle-lace fillings were used in the earliest high–quality pieces.
Limerick became famous for its fine linen thread and variety of stitches used. The technique of Limerick embroidery spread to other parts of Ireland and later to Britain when women folk left Ireland during the Irish famine.
A decline in lace-making followed in the 1860s after the English Court went into mourning following the death of Prince Albert in 1861. Limerick embroidery went from being professionally commercial and supervised to a cottage industry where there was little communication. The rate of pay dropped to 1d per day for 10 hours work – scarcely an enticement. A revival in the 1880s was partly due to the teaching by the nuns of the Good Shepherd Convent, partly due to encouragement by influential citizens and partly because of the emphasis of good design finely executed to compete with machine made laces.
Limerick embroidery was in demand for ball and evening gowns and for afternoon tea dresses. In the latter part of her reign, Queen Victoria was a great lace patron and was reputed to like her knickers trimmed only with the best lace.