As trends come and go, and ebb and flow, we often see the resurgence of Crochet in fashion. It is often the ‘go-to’ technique when designers are inspired by such periods as the luxe Victorian Era, the hippie-chic ’60s, or their own resort getaways to the islands. Crochet’s beauty is timeless and it is always exciting to see how the fashion industry finds ways to make it new again.
Crochet’s history is both mysterious and modern, being a much newer handcraft than it’s close cousins, Lacework and Knitting. And although many different countries and cultures claim Crochet as their own, it is safe to say the influence of these various craftspeople over the past few centuries has made an indelible mark on the evolution of this intricate medium.
Research suggests that crochet probably developed most directly from Chinese needlework, a very ancient form of embroidery known in Turkey, India, Persia and North Africa, which reached Europe in the 1700s and was referred to as “tambouring,” from the French “tambour” or drum. In this technique, 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. The tambour hooks were as thin as sewing needles, so the work must have been accomplished with very fine thread.
At the end of the 18th century, tambour evolved into what the French called “crochet in the air,” when the background fabric was discarded and the stitch worked on its own.
Crochet began turning up in Europe in the early 1800s and was given a tremendous boost by Mlle. Riego de la Branchardiere, who was best known for her ability to take old-style needle and bobbin lace designs and turn them into crochet patterns that could easily be duplicated. She published many pattern books so that millions of women could begin to copy her designs. Mlle. Riego also claimed to have invented “lace-like” crochet,” today called Irish crochet.
In early centuries, man – and it was the job of the men – created his handwork for practical purposes. Hunters and fishermen created knotted strands of woven fibers, cords or strips of cloth to trap animals and snare fish or birds. Other uses included knotted game bags, fishing nets and open- worked cooking utensils.
Handwork was expanded to include personal decoration for special occasions such as religious rites, celebrations, marriages or funerals. One might see ceremonial costumes with crochet- like ornamentation and decorative trimmings for arms, ankles and wrists.
Moving forward to Victorian times, crochet patterns became available for flowerpot holders, bird cage covers, baskets for visiting cards, lamp mats and shades, wastepaper baskets, tablecloths, antimacassars (or “antis,” covers to protect chairbacks from the hair oil worn by the men in the mid- 1800s), tobacco pouches, purses, men’s caps and waistcoats, even a rug with footwarmers to be placed under the card table for card players.
From 1900 to 1930 women were also busy crocheting afghans, slumber rugs, traveling rugs, chaise lounge rugs, sleigh rugs, car rugs, cushions, coffee- and teapot cozies and hot-water bottle covers. It was during this time that potholders made their frrst appearance and became a staple of the crocheter’s repertoire.
Now, of course, anything goes. In the 1960s and 1970s crochet took off as a freeform means of expression that can be seen today in three-dimensional sculptures, articles of clothing, or rugs and tapestries that depict abstract and realistic designs and scenes.