Ayrshire became famous for its embroidered muslin, and many of the girls and women on my family tree are described, in the census, as muslin sewers or flowerers. It was a form of “whitework”, being embroidery hand sewn onto white muslin and incorporating cutwork, and was very popular for cuffs, collars and christening gowns.
Each sewer tended to specialise in a particular pattern, so that the completed piece could be produced by several girls. The work, including the printed paper patterns, was distributed by agents and the girls worked at home, although sewing schools were also set up to teach the girls and sometimes the girls worked there. However, the piece rate pay was low and the work caused eye problems due to doing such intricate work for long hours in dim light. Work was commissioned by large firms who sold it to fashion houses all over Europe and even to the USA. The christening robe worked by Queen Victoria’s eldest son was made by the Rowat family of Dundonald.
The industry was killed off in the late 1800s when machine embroidery such as broderie anglaise meant such work could be mass produced.
Examples of Ayrshire whitework can be seen here – http://www.futuremuseum.co.uk/collections/arts-crafts/crafts/ayrshire-needlework.aspx
An article explaining how the industry was organised can be found here – http://www.electricscotland.com/History/industrial/industry13.htm