The History of Crochet

What exactly is Crochet?

No, crochet isn’t just the French version of knitting! Crochet is a completely different technique, and uses a hook rather than a needle to create lace or fabric. The crocheted fabric is created using a single hook, by looping and interlocking wool or thread.

There are two main differences between knitting and crochet. The first being the equipment needed to perform the craft and the second being the stitches themselves.

The name “Crochet” is a French word which literally means “small hook”. Where knitting uses two long needles to produce stitches, crochet relies on only one, small hook.

The hook is used to create loops of yarn to produce a crochet item, utilising many different types of yarns, wool or thread. The hooked needle can be made from a variety of materials, from metal, wood, bamboo or even modern crochet hooks made of plastic.

The stitches are also completely different in both disciplines. In the art of crochet, each stitch is completed before moving on to the next, unlike knitting, where multiple stitches can be left unfinished as you work through your project.

What came first, Knitting or Crochet?

Actually neither! Both knitting and Crochet were born from a technique called Nålebinding, which literally means “binding with a needle” in Danish. The oldest known example of Nålebinding is believed to date back to 6500 BC. Today the women of the Nanti Tribe (an indigenous people of the Camisea region of Peru) still practice it. The technique also remains popular in Scandinavia and the Balkans.

So where did it all Begin?

The exact origins of crochet are unclear, however the first known publication of instructions for the craft can be found in a Dutch magazine called Penélopé in 1823. The article includes a pattern book that shows the reader how to create 3 crocheted purses in great detail, even including a colour plate showing the different styles.

Each purse could be created using three different stitches, from simple to slightly more technical –

Simple open crochet basic stitch
Semi open crochet basic stitch
Double crochet stitch

Read it

The earliest reference in Britain can be found in The Memoirs of a Highland Lady by Elizabeth Grant (1797–1830). This book is an absolutely fabulous read, and is still available today. You can pick up a copy on Amazon, or here at my all time favourite resource for reading Forgotten Books

Both The Memoirs of a Highland Lady and Penélopé describe the use of a Shepherds Hook to produce the garment. A shepherds hook have a hook at one end, similar in shape to a fish-hook. They were often made of steel, ivory or box-wood and can in a multitude of different shapes and sizes. It was recommended to use a shepherds hook with more coarse yarn in the magazine Penélopé specifically.

Popular with the Poor, yet Fit for a Queen

For centuries, crochet was seen by many as a method of producing cheap fabrics. A poor mans lace if you will! However, this all changed when Queen Victoria learned how to crochet. She also purchased Irish crochet lace for herself to help support the communities in Ireland, who were using crochet to make a living after the devastating potato famine (1845 – 1852).

Later, in the mid 20’s early 30’s, crochet made the move from a way to produce background fabric and embellishments to a technique used by fashion designers to produce entire garments, the most famous of course is the iconic combination of cloche hat and evening gown, otherwise known as the Flapper Dress.

1940s wartime and into the 50’s

As war raged in Europe, crochet became a huge part of the war effort, with ladies around the world producing garments, hats and gloves for the troops. They were even cases of machine gun belts made using bedspread yarn!

Crochet proved to be an invaluable skill in the times of austerity after the conflict too, as Nations had to rebuild with very limited resources. Crochet embodied the spirit of “mend and make do” in the years that followed.

1960’s and the 70’s

Then of course the swinging 60’s came along, with their hippies and tie dye fashions. Crochet fit right in, and also became extremely popular in the home décor department, with magazines full of crochet homewares. In fact crochet patterns and magazines filled the shelves, and the art of the single hook experienced a boom.

Somewhere in this era the “granny square” became fashionable. This small and simple design was used from clothes to blankets and was right on trend for the time, and crochet motifs adorned every home.

The Art of Crochet Today

Crochet is now considered to be an art form. Not only are the crochet superstars artists creating elaborate blankets and clothing, there is now a collectable movement within the creative community.

The toys, and collectable figures being produced here in the UK are nothing short of spectacular and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Crochet has come a long way from making cheap fabrics out of necessity.

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2 thoughts on “The History of Crochet

  1. Rachel says:

    Wow, I had no idea. This was such an interesting read, look how far crochet has come!
    It was a little strange seeing my makes at the end, I am truly flattered. This must have taken a lot of research to obtain all this information. Love it, who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Well this old dog learnt something new today. Xx

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