Lace Matrix

2021 was the year that the Lace Matrix project with Róisín de Buitléar was finally installed in St. George’s Square, Headford. It was a long journey but we are really pleased that the finished piece is now safely in its forever home. It was fascinating to see the project progress from an idea on paper to a completed physical work that showcases the best of Headford.

In 2018, we were fortunate to be chosen by Galway 2020 Capital of Culture to be the recipients of funding under the Small Towns, Big Ideas Programme. Our proposal was to engage an artist to create a piece of permanent artwork for Headford, based on our almost forgotten lacemaking heritage. We undertook a selection process and Róisín de Buitléar was chosen to design the artwork. One of the reasons we chose Róisín was that she did not come to us with a finished design but with a strong desire to engage with our community to collaborate on an idea. Róisín was keen to develop a project that was interactive, community led, and impactful on the town and its identity. She wanted to work with different groups and members of the community to develop design ideas for contemporary responses to the Headford Lace pattern. This process began with three workshops, snowpLACE, commonpLACE and pLACEmaking, which took place in 2019.

snowpLACE was an investigative project examining how Headford can be a source of inspiration for new lace patterns. Róisín got the participants to experiment with a paper cutting activity to create snowflakes. This developed into making giant lace-like shapes, each unique, but viewed together the effect was quite powerful. Participants in commonpLACE had the opportunity to get out and about in Headford and use chalk to add designs to areas that we see every day, to change them and make them less ‘common’. This sparked much discussion about different areas of the town and which areas were overlooked and undervalued. The resulting chalk drawings formed a mini pop-up exhibition, which the public enjoyed for a few days afterwards as an added bonus. In the final workshop, titled pLACEmaking, participants got down to finding a place for this future piece of public art in Headford. Róisín and the group considered different spaces in the town and how they could be changed by the inclusion of an artwork. They filled spaces with their bodies and with props such as balloons and ribbons to see how the spaces could change.

As well as the three workshops we, on St Patrick’s Day, we organised a stall at the Cottage Market in Headford. The idea of this event was for Róisín de Buitléar to engage with a wider demographic from the local area and learn more about how they perceive Headford town in order to further inform the design of the artwork. At the stall, people were given the opportunity to write down their thoughts about Headford on bunting and these were hung up for others to browse. St. Patrick's Day was the perfect day to do this kind of engagement, as the event attracts people from all over the wider area into Headford, despite the rain! All the while Róisín was gathering information, talking to people and igniting the creative process for what would eventually become Lace Matrix.

Of course, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, installation of Lace Matrix was delayed slightly, but after consulting with local residents and engaging the services of a local engineer, we were granted planning permission. Róisín was enthusiastic to use a local fabricator to collaborate on making the frame. Drawing on ideas from vernacular farm ironmongery she worked with local blacksmith Pat Monaghan from the Forge Metalworks to create the framework. The Forge creates exceptional hand made gates and metal items in the traditional method, working within a forge building dating from 1820. The skills and ability of Pat and his colleague Simon Harte to collaborate and problem solve creatively were crucial to the production of the finished piece.

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Simon Harte (L) and Pat Monaghan (R) from Forge Metalworks working on the frame.

The piece is composed of 2 symmetrical forms, which together create a large heart shape. The shape is derived from the original Headford Lace design. The two halves of the heart shape rotate in situ. This idea is based on a system of hanging farm gates, and draws on the tradition of farming related metalwork in the area. The loops of metal surrounding the frame, echo picot edging found on the border of lace. Using knowledge from lace making techniques of crossing and twisting threads, the heart frame was strung with cord to make different patterns. For the first lacing, Róisín collaborated with our bobbin lace tutor Jackie Magnin. Jackie leans towards traditional geometric bobbin lace patterns, while Róisín approached the design with a more contemporary idea of a field of flax flowers, tying in the rich heritage of flax growing in the area. The resulting pattern exemplifies the best of both, windblown flowers on a traditional Dieppe torchon ground with repeating linen stitch diamonds throughout. Lace Matrix can change and become a public symbol of creativity in the town, and acts as an invitation to national or international artists and lacemakers to propose a project for it.

The installation of Lace Matrix began on 12 November, with the frame being put in place by Pat and Simon of the Forge Metalworks and cemented in the ground. Then a team of lacemakers began the task of adding the lace, while standing upright on a podium, arms extended above their heads to weave the intricate twists and crosses. The pattern itself was detailed on two boards attached to the frame, so the lacemakers could see what they needed to do next. This work continued every day and even into the night on some occasions over the next week, with teams of three to four lacemakers taking turns to work on the piece and inviting members of the public to join in and add stitches too. We were delighted that Sr. Madeleine Cleverly could join us all the way from the United States and Jackie Magnin from the wilds of Co. Cork! It was a wonderfully collaborative affair and we endeavoured to take photos of each person who came to visit, these formed the basis of the #HeadfordFaceProject campaign on our social media channels, you can read more about this below.

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Jackie (top), Róisín de Buitléar (centre) and Giulliana (bottom) work on Lace Matrix.

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Róisín de Buitléar, Sr. Madeleine Cleverly, Ger and Anne.

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Gráinne Ní Bhroin.

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Norma Owens.

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On the night of the 17 November, in a dark St. George’s Square, the final twists were completed by Gráinne Ní Bhroin (10), the boards were removed from the back of the frame and the lacemakers pin added by Niamh Monaghan to the top to hold the wings in place. It was a very poignant moment for everyone involved to see it almost complete and casting a beautiful shadow, as planned by Róisín from the start. From the 18 November, the long ends of the stitches had to be woven in using a darning needle, so nothing can come loose. Some of our most adept needlewomen took on this task, including some members of the Headford Yarnbombers. Then, finally, on 21 November, accompanied by an energetic drumroll from local drumming group Drumadore, the final thread was woven in and Lace Matrix was complete.

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Members of HLP Committee putting the finishing touches to Lace Matrix. 

To say blood, sweat and tears went into Lace Matrix would be an understatement, the team involved worked hard to bring this project to fruition, but it could not have been done without the support of Headford people, who participated in the workshops, engaged online, dropped by with words of encouragement, coffee (and even soup!) and have subsequently stopped committee members in the street to sing the praises of Lace Matrix. It could not have happened without Róisín’s vision, drive, encouragement and enthusiasm. It has been a privilege to work with her. The beauty of this project is that it has a future, it can be shaped and moulded by different artists or groups in collaboration with HLP and we are so excited to see what the future holds for it and for future generations of Headford residents and lacemakers. Lace Matrix embeds the unique cultural heritage of lacemaking in a visual way into our town, it elevates it to an artistic form and honours the memory of all the women who made lace in this area from the mid-1700s.

Click here to see more photos of the process of creating  'Lace Matrix'.

What follows is some feedback from people involved in the Lace Matrix and their experience.

“My proudest moment? Stepping back on Sunday afternoon and looking at 4 people working together independently, helping each other when necessary, without any further need for their tutor.” - Jackie Magnin, HLP Bobbin Lace tutor.

“Lace Matrix is a heart shaped design, it’s the heart of the town physically and it’s the warmth of the heart emotionally. For me a granddaughter of an Irish immigrant who moved to America not long after the Famine, the idea of being included and warmly welcomed into the hearts of Headford town and HLP is actually quite overwhelming. Personally I love lace, I loved standing on the platform, I loved working with my hands, standing next to everyone from 7 to 75 years old, watching wellwishers of the town come by to encourage us. The heart is a perfect design and all who come to see it will be welcomed and remembered.” - Sister Madeleine Cleverly, Lacemaker.

“The love and dedication poured into the historical craft of bobbin lace by HLP is infectious and directly in line with my personal values and goals. The opportunity to work on a large scale piece like this is like playing a known tune in a different key. Working with HLP and the venerable Róisín de Buitléar has been an honour.” - Rusty Weise, Lacemaker.

“With over 100 hands involved in the fabrication of the Lace Matrix, this project has been one of the most rewarding community based projects I have undertaken. What evolved during the execution of the work was a model of community action at it's best. Teams of volunteers came, learnt new techniques and made lace together, while others fed us, shared stories, brought warm drinks, ferried volunteers and gave encouragement. While the ongoing transfer of skills and history were unfolding daily, community involvement was being materially integrated into each successive stitch. As we tossed the bobbins, each new nugget of oral history gathered from passers by was shared and celebrated. Different generations of women and men worked side by side in a marathon of lacemaking not seen in the village for hundreds of years. As we unveiled the finished sculpture late in the evening and the white open work lace pattern stood out against the night sky, it felt like the spirits of the young women who had made lace in the town many decades earlier were present amongst us. A new beacon to remember and celebrate the unique history of Headford's craft history had been created, by the community for the community. It was my privilege to have been part of those transformative moments.” - Róisín de Buitléar, Visual Artist.

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Lace Matrix in situ in St. George’s Square, Headford.