Crafty Manolo » By Hook or By Crook: A Brief History of Crochet

By Hook or By Crook: A Brief History of Crochet

By Twistie

This table is crocheted. How fabulous is that? It’s the brainchild of furniture artist Marcel Wanders, and details on it can be found here. I’m sure when the first person began crocheting, she – or he – never imagined it being used for such a purpose.

But how long ago did that person fail to imagine crocheted furniture? Well, it’s difficult to say precisely… but sometime in the first three decades of the nineteenth century seems the most likely period.

Yes, I know there are people who believe crochet to be much, much older, and lots of theories of how it might have been done by ancient peoples… but then there are people who mistake the sprang work found in ancient Egyptian tombs for bobbin lace. That doesn’t make it so.

No, not even if Captain Picard orders it.

How do we know that crochet isn’t a lot older than the start of the nineteenth century? In a word, because we don’t see any of it or any tools for it before then. We don’t find it represented in art. We just don’t have anything at all to indicate it being around in a pre-nineteenth century world.

Where we have medieval paintings of people knitting, and mentions of bobbin lace in household inventories dating back to the late fifteenth century, there is absolutely nothing comparable for crochet. In a world where a single straight pin would be noted as something a great house contained, there are no crochet hooks mentioned anywhere.

And once we do find materials showing and discussing crochet, it’s presented as a brand new thing rather than something you probably already know about. Those references? Yeah, they date from the first half of the nineteenth century. Where the oldest surviving book of bobbin lace patterns hails from Italy and dates back to 1558, the first printed crochet patterns we know of were published in a Dutch ladymag called Penelope in 1824.

But once crochet appeared on the scene, it took off like wildfire and hasn’t slowed down since. Sure, it took a little while for the english-speaking world to stop calling it ‘crotchet’ or sometimes even ‘tambour work’ despite the fact there was already a really nifty type of fancywork with that name, but the actual production of crocheted items and tools for making crocheted items became popular very quickly.

Soon variations sprang up. Irish crochet was developed to imitate the then-fashionable – but wildly expensive – high-relief needle laces of Italy. Filet crochet imitated lacis, or embroidered netting. People thought of more and more things to crochet, from baby booties and bonnets to delicate shawls for warm evenings to cuddly toys for the kids to antimacassars to protect upholstery from noxious concoctions men wore in their hair.

In the end, does it really matter how old the craft is? Mostly to historians and people who do historical re-enactments. Does it matter where it came from? Maybe not that much. What does matter? Well, I think the most important thing is that it’s a fun way to use your time and a versatile craft that can be used in as many ways as you can think  of, and more. It’s simple enough that a small child can learn it easily, but it has so many variations that you can challenge yourself for the rest of your life.

Whether you crochet nothing but pot holders, or you choose to make yourself an inedible pizza:

crochet is a great way to use your time and talent. So have fun with it!

One Response to “By Hook or By Crook: A Brief History of Crochet”

  1. dinazad Says:

    Funny, isn’t it? You’d think a craft as versatile and portable as crochet would have been around from the time yarn war invented. But it’s definitely here to stay!

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