Translated from Irish to mean ‘soft bogland’, the town of Mountmellick lies in a meander of the river Owenass in County Laois. Quaker’s industrialised the town in the early 18th century establishing industries including breweries, a distillery, tanneries, wool and cotton mills. This industrious history provides the context for the emergence of one of the only needle-arts native to Ireland, Mountmellick embroidery.
This distinctive style of embroidery is believed to have been pioneered by Joanna Carter, who in 1816 received an award at a London exhibition for developing new embroidery stitches which provided the basis for the Mountmellick technique. She ran a girls school in the town teaching them to embroider as a means to earn money for their school books, firmly ingraining Mountmellick embroidery into the heritage of the town it’s named after.
A dimensional white-on-white embroidery, Mountmellick designs often featured highly textured, large-scale floral motifs. Originally inspired by plants growing readily along the river Owenass such as blackberries, dog rose, ivy, oak, woodbine and wild clematis it quickly expanded to include cultivated flowers and wildlife like passionflower, tiger-lily, snowdrops, seashells and birds.
The white-on-white embroidery traditionally covered tablecloths, cushion covers and napkins. Elements of this technique are echoed in the bold textured embroidery on Dries Van Noten’s navy embroidered Deanna dress for spring/summer 16.