How a stick with a hook ruled the world
Have you ever wondered where crocheting came from? Who invented this tremendous tool? We seem to know an awful lot about origins of knitting, weaving and embroidery. Yet we struggle to understand how a stick with a hook was born and why is it that it became so popular. So, what is the history of crocheting?
Once upon a time…
Well, it really is once upon a time as nobody really knows when. We are also not able to confirm the ‘where’ part. Depending on whom you ask, the origins of crocheting are associated with Mediterranean, China, Arabian Peninsula or with South America.
All we know for sure is that we find ancient crochet-like artifacts around the world and that the oldest (over 3000 years old!) piece of crochet-like work we ever discovered was found in Jutland, Denmark.
We need to realize though that those early works and tools didn’t resemble crocheting that we know today. The idea behind the technique was similar, but execution differed significantly. Necessity is the mother of invention – in early days we wove thread using bent fingers as hooks!
We did get smarter after a while and started making crochet sticks from animal bones, ivory, wood, tortoiseshells, metal (including old spoons!) and other materials. We used variety of ‘textiles’ – from animal fur and wool, through grass, cotton and hemp, all the way to gold and silver strands. Sky was the limit.
Personally, I find it fascinating that centuries ago crocheting was a manly job. We used the technique primarily to create fish nets, tools and hunting accessories – way before emancipation so… you do the math. When we discovered that we could crochet personal items, pieces of clothing and amazing decorations – women took over.
Potato Famine and Queen Victoria in History of Crocheting
Written exhibits of crocheting art start appearing only in 19th century. This is the time when Elisabeth Grant mentions crochet in ‘The Memoirs of Highland Lady’. Dutch magazine ‘Penelope’ publishes first patterns. Queen Victoria is fascinated with laces and learns the craft herself (documented by photos). Finally, Ireland suffers from great potato famine and, believe it or not, crocheting helps families survive.
I deem the last event to be the single most important contributor to making crocheting so popular for decades.
It all started with Mademoiselle Eleonore Riego de Blanchardiere. She was a half French and half Irish lady. By some she is called the mother of modern crochet. She was passionate about needlework and published her first pattern book in 1846 when she was only 18 years old. At that time lace products were popular yet expensive, therefore exclusive and worn mainly by the wealthy. Prices were skyrocketing because lace was made manually using needles. It took tremendous amount of time to complete pieces of apparel.
Eleonore figured out a way to produce lace using crochet. Instead of crafting a product in full by one person, she arranged them to be done in components. Individuals hired for the production assembled those components at a very last stage of ‘production’ process. This allowed workers to specialize and significantly decreased time to market.
Sounds familiar? Yes, some 60 years later Mr Ford arranged car production in a similar manner and became known as the father of innovative assembly line. Nobody said life is fair!
Crocheting history and Potato Famine
When Great Famine hit Ireland in 1845, crocheting of lace components became the main source of income for thousands of Irish families. According to estimates, by 1847 up to 20,000 females worked for that business. Workers were supplied with materials and did their job at home. Then crocheters would take completed components back to a lace making center. As a last steps, workers carefully arranged and joined components to produce such items as gloves, cuffs or dresses.
Fast mass production lead to decrease in prices and crocheted products became available also to middle class. Queen Victoria engaged in promoting crocheted Irish products to support Irish economy. Those products were widely sold both in Europe and in the US.
Throughout her life Eleonore published over 70 books on crocheting, needlework and tatting. She became the fashion trendsetter of her times. Crocheting was booming. Every woman could learn this simple technique and create amazing apparel and decoration at home.
20th century peaks and valleys in History of Crocheting
In early 1900s we observed a decline in popularity of handcraft. Machinery and factories came to play, yet crocheting was still in its prime time. In the 1930s bobble and popcorn stitches appeared in patterns. This stimulated the increase in crochet usage for décor. Interestingly, during 40s, we still widely utilized crocheting. This time however, mainly for mending clothes and making hats, socks and scarves for soldiers during war.
Up until 1970s the mainstream fashion widely used crocheted apparel. What is more, women magazines started printing free patterns. Those included variety of uses of a granny square, which was a fairly new concept at that time.
During 80s and 90s we observed a continuous downturn in crocheting practice. It is difficult to explain this phenomenon. This is because lace and crochet-like clothing was still fashionable and highly in demand. Most likely because homemade crocheted items were superseded by machine made cheaper items available in a globalized economy.
Fortunately, during the 2000s we re-discovered the beauty of a stick with a hook. Nowadays we see an outburst in crochet popularity. Each day we observe new, creative ideas for patterns and stitches.
Centuries of evolution
We have come long way in our crocheting journey. We started simple with fish nets few thousands of years ago. Nowadays we have a vast array of hooks, accessories and materials at our disposal. Global economy and worldwide web give us incredible opportunity for exchanging ideas and patterns. We keep inventing new ways of utilizing the technique.
Interestingly, use of crocheting reaches far beyond handcraft, apparel and home décor. Scientists proved that practicing crocheting helps in fighting depression and stress. It improves eye-hand coordination and focus for individuals with attention deficits. The most amazing thing is that it is easy to learn and fun to do. Once you try it, you’ll never want to stop. Crochet steals the key to your heart!
It definitely stole key to my heart as my true love and passion is creation of amigurumi patterns and handmade toys. If you feel inspired and would like to try crocheting yourself then check out my ‘Crocheting for beginners’ post, where I explain where to start.
I really hope you enjoyed a bit of history of crochet. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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