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Rachel Gartlan


Kathleen, Mary, Theresa, Martha, Mary

My degree show is the culmination of a year-long form of dialogical process. It is made up of a series of embroidered lace veils which evolved from a form of social practice that engages with a female craft industry specific to my hometown. This project aims to speak about gender roles within labour and labour under capitalism, highlighting the voice of the individual female labourer within the practice of lacemaking.

I am from Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan, which has a history of lacemaking since the early nineteenth century. Carrickmacross lace was founded and industrialised as a means for impoverished local women to earn a living. However, lacemaking, as with many other industrial processes, was fraught with contradictions and exploitation of the poor. Individual production workers were rarely acknowledged or appreciated for their labour, working in harsh conditions for meagre pay.

At the beginning of this year, I interviewed local contemporary Carrickmacross lacemakers about their personal histories with the craft. These women all produce Carrickmacross lace for their own various reasons; as a therapeutic hobby, as part of an artistic practice, or as a small craft business. I have embroidered selected sentences from these interviews into the veils, framing their interest in this traditional practice. This acts in direct opposition to how female labourers were typically not considered or heard in the days of factory textile production.

The material and aesthetic make-up of the art works refer specifically to Carrickmacross lace. These works use a nylon net fabric that is embroidered upon, mirroring the use of this material in the production of handmade Irish lace. However, I embroidered the text in a raw manner that is less subtle than the techniques used during lace production.

These works also reference the social uses and semiotic reading of the veil. The wedding veil has been the most popular Irish lace product throughout its history. The white lace veil was, and remains, something worn by women as a symbol of moral purity, sexual respectability and innocence. Therefore, the veil as a device is used to obscure the identity of the wearer, both physically and symbolically. As the average production worker was obscured by the product of her labour, the female consumer of the product was also concealed.

By engaging with and representing contemporary Carrickmacross lacemakers, this project aims to frame the evolution of a practice which was once prescribed to women but has now been taken into their own hands.

Rachel Gartlan Proj1 1 by new-project-page Rachel Gartlan Proj1 2 by new-project-page Rachel Gartlan Proj1 3 by new-project-page