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Thursday, 20 August 2015

History of Crochet

History of Crochet
January 9, 2010

Lisa Keipp
Denver Crochet Examiner


Shepherd’s Knitting

Depending on who you ask, crochet developed as a practical work and as an art form at different times throughout the world. In the Northern areas - Norway, Finland, Scandinavia, Northeastern Europe and even Scotland – a practical, useful style know as “shepherd’s knitting” was developed. Originally done only with the fingers, hooks made of fish bone, wood and broken metal tools repurposed through filing a hook into the broken tool – old spoons, broken combs, grooming tools for animals.

The finger method was first documented in Sweden, but use of a tool to do the job was first documented in Scotland in 1812 in the memoirs of Elizabeth grant, who remembers her great grand uncle wearing clothing made by his wife, who used such a tool made from a broken tortoiseshell comb.

Shepherd’s knitting is done as continuous piece of work in the round, in which a single slip stitch is worked into the front or back loop of the former round. In England in the mid 1800s, this was considered single crochet- different than our single crochet – and the first step ever mastered by a beginner. This makes a very tight piece of work, and was commonly used for gloves, scarves and hats- practical work.

Tambour Work

A second development in crochet was developed out of tambour work. Tambour work is done on muslin, netting or other even weave fabric with a tiny hook, often known as a “crochet”. The fabric is stretched in a hoop, and a design is drawn on the fabric. Then the hook is placed through the fabric and draws up a loop of thread from below, and each successive loop is drawn up through the last loop, creating a form of chain stitch that looks very similar to that made in embroidery. A very nice tutorial can be found here: Modern examples of this can be found in the bridal aisle at a fabric store; though it is now machine done, it is still similar to the early works. Tambour work began in Turkey, China, Persia, and India and was not found in Europe as a practice before 1750.

Claims are made that fancy crochet work done with thread stemmed from this earlier practice, as someone somewhere in Europe decided to forego the fabric and start making stitches and designs purely out of thread, mimicking tatting.

Tambour tools are still readily available, and were hard to discern from the earliest crochet hooks on the market in the mid 1800s. Both had a handle made of wood, bone or metal; each handle had interchangeable hooks of different sizes. The main difference is in the handles – crochet hook handles are straighter, due to needing to be held at an angle, while the tambour hook, held straight up and down, has a rounded, teardrop handle. Some tambour hooks even have a small ‘latch’ on them to keep the thread from coming off the hook; the precursor to rug hooks.

Crocheted Lace and Irish Lace

A third and fourth development for crochet were the French Revolution and the start of the Industrial Revolution. The French Revolution created a collapse of the old guild structures and crochet evolved from tambour work as the new form of lace making; called simultaneously "frivolitaire" and "Punto en Aria" – stitch made in the air. Women everywhere throughout France crocheted as a symbol of their freedom from the old tyranny. However, this crocheted lace soon fell out of favor, and there was a return to bobbin lace, since it was daintier. Crocheted lace did come back into popularity in Ireland during the potato famine of the mid 1800s, and was a cottage industry supported by the queen of England, who created a market in her court and other courts for the new “Irish lace”.

Crocheting became immensely popular through the latter part of the 19th century, especially among the upper classes, spreading from Europe to America, and ladies of every class took up crocheting as a popular form of home decoration, accessorizing clothing, and making the clothing itself. Crocheting soon became as popular as knitting as a pass time for young ladies, and crochet hooks of every kind were available of wood, bone, ivory, steel and silver, from plain and practical to nicely turned or engraved pieces made as much for show as for practicality.

Double crochet hooks were not uncommon; some had different sized hooks and others had the same size hook on either end for Tunisian crochet, which is first discussed in the 1840s.

Printed Patterns

The earliest known printed patterns available are from 1824 in a women’s magazine called Penelope from Holland, which was printed from 1821 through 1833. These magazines were highly popular in Germany, and in the 1840s, the publication of books devoted solely to crochet exploded, translated into several languages and distributed to several countries. One of he most noted crochet designers was Mlle. Riego de la Branchardiere of England. Between 1846 and 1887, she published over 100 books on needlecraft, many of which were on crochet.

Ladies magazines in the U.S. always had crochet or knitting patterns included. However, the early patterns often made assumptions that the reader was highly skilled in crochet already, and were not often very precise. However, of benefit was the drawing accompanying the patterns from the 1860s onward; these drawings were highly detailed and precise; you can replicate the pattern just by looking at the drawing of it. One of the things to remember when using old crochet patterns is the difference between our single crochet and their single crochet.

Crochet Today

Crochet today, just as in the past, has faced its ups and downs, gaining in popularity and then losing ground, only to be revived again. It seems that crochet –and all handworks – and their popularity can be directly linked to the current state of the economy. Crochet was highly popular in the 1930s for practical purposes, turned a bit to the frivolous in the 1940s when patterns for toys gained in popularity, waned again only to be revived in the 1970s and today.

Today, crochet is seen as a practical skill, an art form and is even used to make political and social statements.


Lis Paludan Crochet History and Technique 1995 Interweave Press

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