19th c Tambour & Embroidered Muslin Industry of Skerries

An Italian, Luigi Ruffini, arrived at Edinburgh and established a workroom to train girls in tambouring. This embroidery involved embellished chain stitching and was worked with a hook. He modified the circular tambour frame, and produced a frame wide enough to hold a complete web of muslin. Rollers held by ratchets at either end enabled the winding of the material as it worked. Four girls worked at each frame.

These manufactories proliferated and soon spread to Ireland. The Scottish merchants paid their Scottish workers 6-8 shillings per week, their Irish workers 4-6 shillings. Ireland became the Hong Kong of the industry. At its height 1856-7 there were 400,000 embroiderers in Ireland and 80,000 in Scotland.

Thom’s Commercial Directory gives the following description of Skerries.
“And all the population are nearly employed – the men at sea and the women and girls at embroidery and the boys apprenticed to boat owners. The embroidery of muslin is carried on extensively here. It was introduced by Messrs. Robert and Samuel Cochran in 1812. In 1817 they had upwards of 1,300 hands engaged thereon; since then from the increased number of employers it affords employment to a great number of females throughout the year for Belfast and Glasgow agencies.”

The early tambour work was superseded by a new type of embroidery, much finer and more intricate work, to resemble lace. The women who produced this work became known as flowerers because many of the designs were floral. This work was produced in the home. The worker was given by the employer a piece of material stamped with the pattern, the employers name and often the time allowed for its execution. It could take ten days to embroider one collar.

The embroidery industry established by the Cochrans at Skerries continued until the death of Robert Junior in 1898. The family became the most successful in the trade.

Subsequently embroidery was worked by Skerries women for the hosiery firm of Smyths of Balbriggan.

Betty Balcombe (SHS, 1992)