Origin and History of Crochet: Who. When, Where Invented It?

Crochet is enjoying a revival in the modern world. It has become some popular that everyone wants to learn how to crochet.

It has proved to be pretty rewarding, not just because of enabling you to come up with beautiful handmade items, but because of the many health benefits linked to it.

BUT…have you ever wondered how this art of craft came to be? Or how it was done in the early days?

In today’s post, we’ll get into more detail about the origin and history of the art of crochet.

The History of Crochet

Unlike other crafts which seem to trace their origin pretty well and easily (thanks to archaeological findings and other related sources), there seems to be limited evidence on when, who, and where it was invested.

Annie Potter, a renowned American crocheting expert and world traveller, explains that crocheting as we know it today was developed back in the 16th century. France called it crochet lace while England called it chain lace. She continues to state that in 1916, Walter Edmund Roth paid a visit to the descendants of Guiana Indians—where he found real examples of crochet.

Lis Paludan of Denmark is another writer/researcher who has contributed to finding the true origin of crochet. By confining her research on crochet origins to Europe, she was able to come up with 3 theories:

1. The first theory claims that crochet originated in Arabia and then spread westward to Spain and eastward to Tibet. From there, it spread through the Arab trade routes and to the other Mediterranean countries.

2. Her second theory is based on the fact that the earliest crochet findings were from South America, where a primitive tribe is said to have used the crochet adornments in their puberty rites.

3. In her final theory, she traces the origin of crochet to China, backed with examples of the earliest, crochet-worked 3-dimensional dolls that were found there.

In the rest of this post, we’ll discuss in detail the most relevant theory on the origin of crocheting and how it spread to the rest of the world.

The Chinese Needlework (Tambourinh)

The research believes that crocheting has its roots in the Chinese needlework known as tambouring—this is a very ancient embroidery form that was well-known in Turkey, India, North Africa, and Persia. It is said to have reached Europe in the 1700s.

The word tambourine comes from the French word tambour (which means drum).

The technique involved tightly stretching a piece of fabric on a frame. The working thread was then held underneath and a needle (with hook) was inserted downward. Then, a loop of the thread was drawn up through the taut fabric. As the loop remained on the hook, the hook was then inserted a bit deeper and another loop (also of the working thread) was drawn up through the 1st loop, forming a chain stitch.

Given the tambour hooks were pretty thin (just like the modern-day sewing needles), the entire work required using a fine thread.

By the end of the 18th century, this technique had evolved into what the French referred to as “crochet in the air,” where the background fabric was done away with and the stitch knitted on its own.

In the early 1800s century, crocheting started turning up in Europe. Most notably, it was given an ENORMOUS boost by Mlle. Riego de la Branchardiere (well known for her unique ability to turn old-style needle plus bobbin lace designs into crochet patterns that were easy to duplicate). She also published numerous crochet pattern books to enable millions of women all over the copy her designs.

She claimed to have discovered “lace-like crochet” which is what we all know today as the Irish Crochet…

The Irish crochet

Crocheting became a lifesaver for the Irish people as it pulled from the potato famine fangs (which lasted from 1845 to 1850) which threw them into abject poverty.

Back in these days, the working and living conditions of the people of Ireland were miserable. They’d alternate between farm chores and outdoors to make maximum use of the sunlight. When the darkness stepped in, they would move indoors where they’d get light from candles, oil lamps, or slow-burning peat fires.

They had no presentable place for putting their crochet work since most of them used to live in squalor. Most of the time, they only had under the bed as the best place to put their work, which would make it dirty. Lucky for them, they could wash the crocheted piece later and make it regain its glory. They had a market abroad for their finished items like scarves, collars, etc.

Men, women, and children in Ireland were organized into crocheting cooperatives. Schools were also formed and teachers were sent all over Ireland to teach this crucial skill.

Though it’s said that over a million people perished during the famine, most of them survived through these harsh periods thanks to the earnings they made from crocheting.

Most families also saved enough to enable them to emigrate abroad, where they took their newly found skill with them.

As Annie Potter explains, up to two million Irish people immigrated to America between 1845 and 1859, and four million people by the year 1900.

On arrival, they met American women who were busy with their spinning, knitting, quilting, and weaving. As you’d expect, they become interested in crocheting skills from their new neighbours, which they eventually learned and included in their handwork.

Crochet from 1900s Onwards

In the 1920s and 30s, crocheters all over the world have changed their views on crocheting art. They started viewing it not just as a decorative embellishment but as a method of making actual clothing and related accessories.

In the 1940s, which was the war period, crocheting played a crucial role in the US and Britain. Women back at home used to do their part in the war by creating items for the fighting troops.

By the 1960s, crocheting BOOM had begun, and the demand for crocheting homeware was quite high. Most notably, the granny square grew more popular as a simple design/pattern that could be worked into different clothing options and accessories.

Today, the craft is enjoying a true revival as everyone seems to be interested in it. It has become even easier to learn, with resources littered all over the internet. The tools and supplies required for crocheting are also readily available (in plenty and at affordable costs).

Final Word

Despite the availability of sufficient evidence on how the art of crocheting came to be, one thing we can all agree on is that this craft has come a long way.

Today, we’re witnessing an entirely new generation of crocheters (sweeping across all ages). New stitches and techniques are being invented. Publications—magazines and books—on crocheting are everywhere. An extraordinary set of new yarns is being used in all colours, weights, and styles you can imagine. And a new lowly bent crocheting hook made from different types of materials is being used.

Crocheting is definitely evolving and we can only hope things will become better in the near future.

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