History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

04 March 2008

My Kingdom for a Crochet Hook!

I started crocheting at age 9, when I spent a year in bed (literally!) with rheumatic fever. I quickly learned that enforced idleness leads to needlework! Off and on over the ensuing (ahem) 50 years, I’ve...er...been idle at various times and have picked crocheting up again.

It’s relaxing. Mind-soothing.. Makes you feel you’re accomplishing something, even while you are flaked out in front of the TV. But the other day I got to wondering about the history of crochet, and here is what I found:

1. Queen Victoria learned to crochet!
2. Pattern books were widely printed from about 1824.
3. As early as the 1840s, clothing was crocheted from wool yarns.
4. Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1846 and 1847 refer to “crotchet.”
5. Spelling was standardized to “crochet” in 1848.
6. Various terms refer to crochet: shepherd’s knitting; Irish lace; hairpin lace; broomstick lace; Tunisian crochet; cro-hooking; all are variants of the basic crochet method.
7. During the Great Irish Famine (1845-1849), Ursuline nuns taught Irish women and children to thread-crochet; these cottage-industry products were shipped all across Europe and America.

In the beginning. No one is quite sure when and where crochet began. The word comes from croc, or croche, which is Middle French for hook. The Old Norse word for hook is krokr.

Oh, the controversy! Despite the efforts of various crocheters and needlework historians, no archeological evidence supports any crochet work prior to the 16th century, though there are three interesting theories:

1. Crochet originated in Arabia, spread eastward to Tibet and westward to Spain and thence along Arab trade routes to other Mediterranean countries.

2. Early evidence of crochet work was found South America, where a primitive tribe used crochet adornments in rites of puberty. Wow–a crocheted penis sling?

3. In China early examples were known of three-dimensional dolls worked in crochet.

BUT according to researcher Lis Paludan of Denmark, “the bottom line is there is no convincing evidence as to how old the art of crochet might be, or where it came from.”

Some sources state that crochet has been known from the 1500s in Italy, under the name ‘nun’s work’ or ‘nun’s lace, worked for church textiles. Lady Christian de Holacombe notes that “There are some very faint indications that some sort of ‘chained trimming’ was made around 1580 [when it] was mentioned once in Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d.

Many sources cite examples of lace-making and a kind of lace tape in Europe, but de Holacombe further notes: “The earliest ‘physical’ evidence of any kind for the thread technique we now know as crochet dates to about 1800. If [it] was done earlier, we would expect to find some actual examples somewhere–old collections, ancient tombs, archeological digs. ... Crochet as we know it doesn’t begin to be commonly seen until sometime after the mid-1700s, when tambour embroidery [a chain stitch done with a small crochet-like hook] reached Europe. ”

Tambour stitching . Crochet possibly developed from Chinese needlework and ancient forms of embroidery known in Turkey, India, Persia and North Africa as “tambouring,” from the French “tambour” or drum. This technique reached Europe in the 1700s.

A background fabric is stretched taut on a frame. A needle with a hook is inserted downward and a loop of thread is drawn from below up through the fabric. With the loop still on the hook, the hook is inserted a little farther along and another under-thread loop is drawn up and worked through the first loop: Voila! A chain stitch.

And then one day in the late 1700s some clever needleworker (a woman, no doubt) said, “Why not just do the thread-through-the-loop stitch and forget the background fabric? In other words, crochet “in the air.”

In Europe one Mlle. Riego de la Branchardiere took old-style needle and bobbin lace designs and turned them into crochet patterns and the rage was on. With the invention of the cotton gin and spinning jenny, and the manufacture of machine-spun cotton thread, hand-spun linen stepped aside and the devil’s playground for idle hands faded.

Sources: Wikipedia; Stefan’s Florilegium; Ruthie Marks, History of Crochet (Crochet Guild Newsletter).


Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Wonderful post Lynna! I've always wondered about the origins of crocheting and knitting. How cool that Queen Victoria sat down to crochet. My mother taught me to crochet as a child, and I still prefer it to knitting, although you can make more groovy stuff with knitting. There's something so zen about sitting down with a crochet needle and a ball of yarn and watching it grow. Plus the clacking of knitting needles gets on my nerves!

11:41 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Great post. There's a gown from 1815 in a collection in Denmark that I think is crocheted. I can't seem to put my finger on the book at the moment though (must have loaned it out *sigh*).

12:14 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm surprised to learn that there is no crochet before the 1600s. My sister is an artists and she does art in crochet. I'm sending her a link to your blog. I know she'll love it.

12:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting! I am trying to help a friend. She would like to know about one of her crochet hooks. It has VICTORIA on it. It is a size 12 but the interesting part is it has an oval in the handle.
I am a thimble collector and have several books so I am able to research needlework tools. When she showed me this crochet hook I told her I would try to find out more about it. Do you know why they had the oval? I have several ribbon threaders and wondered if it had to do with ribbon. I am asking for help!! Thanks, Mayme

10:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found an old crochet hook in stuff from a yard sale, looks like pewter, 6 inches long, far end rounded almost 5/8 inch, looks like it was tamped. might be a makers mark 1/2 way up but pretty rubbed out.You can actually see where it was held, slight wave to the tip end, looks like a size 3 or so.
Do you know who might be able to identify it?

7:42 AM  

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