Crochet – A Very Brief History

Whilst researching this topic it became very apparent that there is no real answer as to where crochet originated. My research has shown that this could be a number of places Europe, Ireland, Arabia or even China but nobody really knows.

Crochet starts to appear heavily in Europe during the 19th Century[1]. Earlier work may well have been mistaken for nålebinding an alternative technique for yarn looping.

Meaning

The word crochet comes from the old French “crocheter” and also “Croche” which is of Germanic origin [2]. During 17th Century French lace making, the term was used to designate a stitch joining lace together.

Irish Beginnings

During the Great Irish Famine, families would join cooperatives to produce Irish Lace as a way to create an additional income. Schools were created to teach the craft and maybe this explains the appearance of crochet in America during the period of high Irish immigration. A woman called Mademoiselle Riego de la Blanchardiere started to teach the farmers wives a new trade. She is seen as the originator of this craft in Ireland.

French Beginnings

Evidence of a French Connection? Tambour embroidery and crochet. French tambour embroidery was illustrated in detail in 1763 in Diderot’s Encyclopaedia.

The tambour needle is extremely similar to the current crochet hook. Also the chain stitch separated from a cloth support is a fundamental element of the latter technique. The 1823 Penélopé instructions unmistakably mention the tambour tool was used. Interestingly the First instruction book (1840s) uses the term “Tambour” and “Crochet” as replacements.

Queen Victoria

During the Great Irish Famine, Queen Victoria bought Irish Crochet which supported the local efforts.  Queen Victoria even learned the craft , making eight scarves for veterans of the South African War – and by the end of her reign, much of England was hooked. Whilst Queen Victoria may not have created Crochet, she may well have established its presence in England.

Did it begin with the humble Shepherd?

One of the first references in English of items made by looping yarn with a hook (Shepherd’s Knitting). This appears in a memoir by Elizabeth Grant (1797-1830).  Whilst this was not published until much later it appears that the journal entry was dated in 1812. This mention of shepherds knitting was then mentioned in the 1833 volume of Penélopé. It recommended utilising a “Shepherds Hook” and a coarser yarn to achieve crochet.

During this period, numerous books had been written state:

“Crochet needles, sometimes called Shepherds’ hooks, are made of steel, ivory, or box-wood. They have a hook at one end similar in shape to a fish-hook, by which the wool or silk is caught and drawn through the work. These instruments are to be procured of various sizes..[3]

Two years later, the same author writes:

Crochet, — a species of knitting originally practised by the peasants in Scotland, with a small hooked needle called a shepherd’s hook, …….. the instrument with which it is worked being by them, from its crooked shape, termed ‘crochet.’ This art has attained its highest degree of perfection in England, whence it has been transplanted to France and Germany, and both countries, although unjustifiably, have claimed the invention[4].”

Who Created Crochet?

As you can see by reading this very brief history, no one actually knows. It appears that most countries have their own version or some kind of variation of the theme.

The anglophile in me, likes the idea that the humble Shepherd in Highlands of Scotland gave the world Crochet.

If you enjoyed this article then why not visit our blog and read about the history of macrame and other crafts.

Crochet References


[1] Lis Paludan, Crochet: History & Technique, Interweave Press, Loveland CO, ISBN 1883010098, p. 76

[2] “Crochet”, The Free Dictionary By Farlex. Retrieved 27 Dec 2020.

[3] Internet, Miss Lambert, Hand-book of Needlework, New York City, 1842, p.92

[4] Internet, Miss Lambert, My Crochet Sampler, London, 1844, pp. 9-10

1 thought on “Crochet – A Very Brief History”

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