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The History of Crochet

Crochet is a timeless art that has brought joy to millions, yet no one can say for sure who first created it. Perhaps it is a divine gift, for what other household art can claim to have saved an entire nation from starvation?

Maybe I am being a bit melodramatic, but it is true that the origins of crochet are shrouded in mystery. It is such a seemingly simple craft, involving nothing more than a hook and a length of yarn, that logic would assume it must have been around for thousands of years. However, while archeologists have found ancient pieces of knitting, embroidery, and weaving, no such examples exist of ancient crochet. In fact, the oldest known evidence of anything resembling crochet only dates back to the 1800s.

So where did it come from then?

The word “crochet” comes from the French “croche,” meaning, “hook,” but the craft itself was most likely developed from a Chinese form of needlework called “tambouring.” This technique was very similar to the modern form of crochet, except that it was worked onto a fabric background with very fine thread and a fine needle with a hook on one end. The theory is that once tambouring reached Europe in the 1700s, someone discovered that the thread stitches would hang together without the fabric background, and thus crochet was born.

This innovation came out just in time rescue Ireland from the grip of famine. It was the 1800s, and a great potato blight sent many poor Irish families who depended on the crop for income into poverty. That is when Mademoiselle Riego de la Blanchardiere decided something must be done about the situation. The peasants desperately needed a new trade, something that had easily accessible materials, that could be worked on in less than ideal conditions, and that would appeal to the nobles as a treasured commodity. Crochet provided all of these requirements, and soon the unique style of Irish crochet lace became coveted worldwide. But most importantly, it gave the people a way to feed their families.

Okay, so maybe it hadn’t occurred to Mademoiselle Riego de la Blanchardiere that Irish lace would be the savior of the country, but she is the one who is generally credited with inventing the style. She also wrote the first book of crochet patterns, which was published in 1846.

Today crochet is known in many forms. Our pioneering grandmothers, poor from the Great Depression and later World War II, would save every scrap of yarn they had and turn them into what are now known as granny squares. Of the laces, there is broomstick lace, which was originally worked on the end of a broomstick; and hairpin lace, which is worked over two pins. Tunisian or Afghan crochet almost seeks to combine crocheting and knitting techniques. And even Japan has its own form of crochet known as amigurumi, which is the art of crocheting small stuffed toys.

And it doesn’t end there. Now creative crafters are incorporating beads, wire, plastic bags, and countless other notions into their work. Everyday it seems someone thinks up something new to do with crochet. The possibilities of crochet in the future are endless.

And it is very exciting.

References:

Christian de Holacombe. (2001, September 23). Crochet & Its Origins—FAQ. Stefan’s Florilegium. Retrieved February 9, 2007.

Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles. (2005). Irish Crochet Lace: 150 Years of a Tradition. Berkeley, CA: Author. Retrieved February 9, 2007.

Marks, R. (1997, September). History of Crochet. Chain Link. Retrieved March 10, 2007.

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