The village of Mountmellick is located on the Owenass River. Historically, it was an important centre for woolen mills and sugar beet processing.
But Mountmellick is probably most well known for its lace, and its distinct style of embroidery identified by the following:
•Large floral designs taken directly from nature
•Fringed edges and button holed pieces
In the later nineteenth century, the Mountmellick style of embroidery was popularly used in children’s clothes, aprons, and ladies wear. The style grew in popularity along with other Irish needlework innovations such as Limerick lace, Carrickmacross lace and Muslin embroidery.
A Quaker woman named Joanna Carter is thought to be the creator of the Mountmellick embroidery techniques. She lived in a thatched house that also functioned as a school for about fifteen girls, some Protestant and some Catholic. According to historical records, Mrs. Carter was responsible for a variety of award-winning needlework designs, including quilts, toilet covers, and doilies. She also created a noteworthy quilt for the Countess of Eglinton. A woman named Margaret Beale, wife of Joseph Beale, a local manufacturer at Mountmellick, is also recorded as having been instrumental in the development of Mountmellick embroidery.
Early developments in the art of needlework in the area are traced back to the Society of Friends school in 1786, where girls learned to do needlework as a means of earning money for textbooks.
In 1880, an industrial association was formed in Mountmellick to give financially distressed women a way to earn an income through needlework. Their work became widely known and the association, founded by a Mrs. Milner, employed fifty women by 1890. Mountmellick embroidery grew into a countywide business, experiencing its largest volume of production in those few years at the end of the century. It remained well known as a respected craft form for many years, and President Kennedy was presented with a white quilt featuring Mountmellick embroidery in 1963.
Today, Sr. Teresa Margaret tries to keep the form of embroidery alive. A self-taught needle crafter, she passes on the traditional techniques at classes held at the Mountmellick Development association building.
Mountmellick Museum is located in a renovated grain mill that overlooks the river. It includes a variety of exhibits, including several lace collections, as well as a restaurant.