Ida May Allen’s Irish Crochet Wedding Jacket

Ida May Allen did not have an easy childhood. She was born on August 26, 1863, in the midst of the upheavals of the Civil War (1861–1865) and almost four months after the divorce of her parents, Wealthy Ann Allen and Robert Franklin, on May 6, 1863. Although it is possible that Wealthy Allen, just twenty, may have lived for a time with relatives, she soon was forced to make her way as best she could, burdened with her baby, Ida May, and her two-year-old daughter, Addie Audre.

Ida May’s name appears in the 1880 U.S. Federal Census taken June 8, in Almont, Lapeer County, Michigan. In this census, she is seventeen, living on Cherry Street with her mother, age forty-six, whose name was recorded erroneously by the census taker as “Bertha,” and her older sister, age nineteen, was recorded as “Andre Addie.” All three women reported their occupation as dressmaker. Alone in the world, initially living in poverty, they succeeded in a demanding profession, creating beautiful garments and stunning needlework as their sole livelihood. Ample evidence of the needle skills of all three women is preserved in the pieces that have survived to be handed down in the family.

Ida May Allen’s wedding jacket. Irish crochet. United States. Circa 1881. Photograph by Joe Coca.

Ida May Allen’s wedding jacket. Irish crochet. United States. Circa 1881. Photograph by Joe Coca.

Examples of flawless tatting, fine silk embroidery, and exquisite crochet demonstrate that their talents far exceeded simple sewing and mending.

Most precious of all their work is a cotton lace wedding jacket, a brilliant design executed in the finest Irish crochet. Although we have been unable to find a commercial pattern resembling this garment, one may exist. But we believe that Ida May, very likely with the help of her sister, Addie, may have designed it herself. Family lore on this point is unclear. Nor do we know precisely how many hours and days the project required; given the time constraints of her profession, perhaps more than a year was devoted to its construction. In any case, the wedding jacket remains a remarkable feat of needlework and its design a genuine work of art.

Detail photographs by Joe Coca.

Detail photographs by Joe Coca.

On April 24, 1881, Ida May, presumably wearing her beautiful jacket, married Joseph Jr. Simons, a master carriage maker. To our great regret, no wedding photograph of Ida May in her jacket has survived.


LOWANNE E. JONES, one of Ida May’s great-granddaughters, is a retired associate professor of medieval studies in Comparative Literature and Romance Languages at The Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati. Master knitter for more than sixty-fi ve years, quilter, fiber artist, jewelry designer, genealogist, and writer, Lowanne is married to Jack Taylor. She is the proud mother of five sturdy sons and one talented daughter and the bewitched grandmother of eight with a ninth expected in June.

Lowanne’s complete article is in the May/June 2016 issue of PieceWork.

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