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A Brief History of Crochet
According to Annie Louise Potter in her 1990 book, A Living Mystery, the International Art & History of Crochet, published by A.J. Publishing International, the word crochet comes from the Middle French words croc or croche, meaning hook. Crochet is the art of creating fabric by pulling loops of yarn or thread through other loops with the aid of a crochet hook.
Starting with a simple chain as a foundation, various stitches are added until the crocheted piece has basically been built upon itself. Crochet can be worked in rows or rounds with stunning results.
Early History of Crochet
The history of crochet tells us it may have been done in the beginning using only the fingers rather than today's hook method. Eventually, primitive bent needles with cork handles were used. Later, crochet hooks were carved of wood, ivory or bone and eventually made of silver, brass, or steel. In the beginning, hooks were not sized as they are today.
The Beginnings of Crochet
Since there are no known records or actual crocheted items dating to much earlier than 1800, no one is completely sure when and where the history of crochet first began. It has been suggested that early crochet evolved from another form of stitching called Tambour which involved yarn loops being pulled through fabric. By eliminating the fabric, crochet "in the air" may have been born.
The earliest written reference to crochet seems to be a mention of something called "shepherd's knitting" in The Memoirs of a Highland Lady by Elizabeth Grant in 1812. The first published patterns appeared in 1824 in the Dutch magazine, Penelope, and in 1842 Mlle. Riego de la Branchardiere began publishing complex patterns and instructions for crochet that resembled bobbin lace and needle lace.
In crochet's early days, it was considered a pastime of the upper class, whereby they could create delicate and detailed items to decorate their homes or their clothing. The rich felt that the lower classes didn't need the luxury of decorative household items or fancy clothes, so the poor were generally discouraged or even prohibited from learning crochet. Instead they were encouraged to knit in order to make basic necessities or repair socks and other apparel.
The History of Crochet, Irish Lace, and the Great Irish Famine
During the Great Irish Famine that decimated Ireland from 1845 to 1849, however, Ursuline Nuns there began teaching local women and children thread crochet. Items these locals created were then shipped to and sold in America and Europe. This was the advent of a style of crochet now commonly known as Irish lace, which was probably instrumental in helping many Irish families survive the famine.
A worldwide cottage industry began to develop around crochet, especially in Ireland and Northern France. Since these items were purchased by the emerging European middle class, the upper class began to label crochet as a cheap imitation lace only suitable for the masses and touted the older style of lace made by more expensive methods as being superior.
Crochet Becomes an Art Form
When Queen Victoria learned to crochet, some of the stigma was removed, and as crochet moved into the 20th century, it finally became an art form on its own. Once patterns became more readily available to everyone, a more standardized stitch size also became necessary. Soon crochet hooks were being made in various sizes in order to accommodate the required size of stitch or gauge called for in the pattern.
Crochet Continues to Evolve
The history of crochet continues as new stitches, as well as new techniques and designs, are being developed by a whole new generation of crocheters. Magazines and books are now devoted to crochet, and extraordinary new yarns are being spun in every imaginable style, weight and color. The lowly bent needle has itself become a thing of beauty, created by artisans in many styles, sizes and materials from wood to acrylic to polymer clay.
Read Eight Reasons to Learn to Crochet to learn why you should participate in this fantastic art if you aren't already "hooked".