Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Mystery of Our Crochet History

How old is our beloved craft?

Where does it come from?

How did it develop?

Well.. there are no clear answers to any of those questions!

It is commonly accepted that there are no surviving samples of crochet prior to 1800. But it must have existed before that. I can find things as old as the 1800’s by visiting nearly any antique mall in the country.

Turns out it may be easier to find crochet in our own personal histories prior to 1800 than to find evidence of it elsewhere. If we can find artifacts of knitting and embroidery..and we have..then we should also find crochet..but we don’t. Does this mean that it didn’t exist?

Historian and textile scholar Ms. Lila de Chaves of Greece has concluded that “interlacing with loops was used by the people of the Neolithic Age before the discovery of the spinning wheel and as far back as 5,000 years B.C.”

She adds, “We refer to such pieces as knotless netting because the fibers are interlaced with each other and without the use of knots … identical to the technique of crochet…” (Talking Crochet Newsletter Copyright © 2013. Annie’s. All rights reserved.)

So there is evidence that Crochet existed, but no surviving samples. I am ready to accept that. It’s still curious that no samples have survived for us.

As to the theories…

The Crochet Guild of America links to a report/paper by Ruthie Marks “History of Crochet” that suggests crochet evolved from “a very ancient form of embroidery known in Turkey, India, Persia and North Africa, which reached Europe in the 1700s”. It was called “tambouring,” from the French word “tambour”.

This theory indicates that crochet existed prior to 1700 when it reached Europe.

Tambour is a French term meaning “drum”

According to this report, “a background fabric is stretched taut on a frame. The working thread is held underneath the fabric. A needle with a hook is inserted downward and a loop of the working thread drawn up through the fabric. With the loop still on the hook, the hook is then inserted a little farther along and another loop of the working thread is drawn up and worked through the first loop to form a chain stitch.

At the end of the 18th century, the background fabric was discarded and the stitch worked on its own. The French called this method “crochet in the air”. Crochet is a French term meaning “hook”..therefore to “hook in the air”.

It is thought that Irish nuns who were trained in a French convent introduced crochet to the poor in Ireland in the mid 1800’s. At that time “crochet was considered a pastime of the upper class, whereby they could create delicate and detailed items to decorate their homes or their clothing. “ (http://penniepackard.hubpages.com/hub/A-Brief-History-of-...) The demand for these finer things was great and the ‘Great Potato Famine’ meant hard times for everyone. It was cheaper to buy crocheted items from the county’s poor than to purchase imported thread and supplies to make their own. So our craft almost certainly brought in at least a meager income to a great many households during that time…and the intricate Irish Lace was born. Or so the story goes J

The earliest written reference to crochet comes from The Memoirs of a Highland Lady by Elizabeth Grant (1797–1830). It refers to slip stitch, or Shepherd’s Knitting.

Lis Paludan also discusses a slip-stitch fabric called “pjonting”. The earliest examples date from about 1820.

Personally, my crochet developed from watching my Aunties and enjoying all the beautiful crochet items in their homes. I was, and still am, amazed at the lovely designs that evolved from a single string on their hooks. When my mother learned, I begged her to teach me. I begged her until my father tired of listening to me and said to her “show her how” I remember the conversation. My mother replied that there was no way I could grasp this ..that I was too little. And my father said that it couldn’t hurt to show me how and if I couldn’t do it then fine!

But I could do it and I made my first granny square that day. I was four years old. I crocheted my mother’s scraps until my granny square was a fair sized blanket! I made a ripple afghan during my middle to teen years and it’s how I worked my way through those difficult growing times.

I am now the only crocheter in my family. My Aunts have all passed away. My mother long ago abandoned crochet for baking and basket making. My father is a wood worker and made our living making custom pieces. My sister is a professional long-arm quilter, my son is a painter and my daughter is a song-writer.

I am proud of them all and our artistic little family. But my only crochet friends are online despite the fact that our craft is growing in popularity.

Maybe it’s time that we all write down our own personal crochet history so there is less to speculate about in the future?